“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy might be full.” John 15:11
Joy. Doesn’t the very word itself sound inviting? Isn’t joy something you deeply long for? What would you give for a little joy right now?
In a nutshell, here is the problem with joy as I see it: I don’t see it. Truly, among Christians for whom joy is a birthright, the second fruit of the Spirit, the promise of Jesus to fulfill in us, joy is depressingly absent. On the Third Sunday of Advent we are supposed to think about joy and have a joyful response. Where is the joy? To put it personally, where is your joy?
Let’s start our recovery of joy by understanding the impediment to it. You might think circumstances are the great enemy of joy, but that is plainly not the case. Though challenging circumstances might affect happiness, they have no effect on joy.
No, the great impediment to joy is discontent. I believe discontent is the reigning mood of our culture. Dissatisfaction touches nearly everyone in multiple areas: politics, taxes, the church, worship style, the ministers, the members, finances, your team’s football coach, etc. We foster discontent, share it, even glorify it as some sort of intellectual marker (i.e. if you’re content, you’re obviously not thinking critically). The tendency to appraise and render verdicts makes us impervious to God’s gift of joy.
Three commitments will help you recover and nurture joy.
First, be committed to grace. In Greek, joy is derived from the same root word as grace. You can be very religious but lack joy. These are the folks that are good in the very worst sense of the word. A joyful Christian understands the primary importance of both receiving grace from God and sharing it with others. Be a conduit of grace.
Second, be committed to fulfilling God’s purpose for you. All of history is marked by three great events or processes: Creation, The Breaking (also called The Fall), and Reconciliation. Right this moment, God is reconciling you to Himself, bringing you closer to Him, closer to Christ-likeness. Do not make this unnecessarily complicated. As you grow in Christ, you serve and love and live the way God originally intended. That is joy.
Finally, embrace the truth. The Christmas story is not just another story. It is different because it is true.
J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the great Lord of the Rings trilogy, was instrumental in helping C. S. Lewis become a Christian. Lewis was not raised in the church. He was first an atheist, and later an agnostic.
He and Tolkien were both professors at Magdalen College and enjoyed discussing their love of story and myth. During one conversation Tolkien spoke about the symbolic meaning of stories and Lewis replied that he was right that all stories, all myths had symbolic meaning, and tried to say that the Christian story was in the same class. Tolkien replied, “But Jack, don’t you realize the difference? This one is true.”
The Christmas story is wonderful and thrilling. It contains some of the greatest ideas ever imagined. What makes it even more remarkable, of course, is that it is true. It is not just another ancient tale with mythic qualities. It is history. God really did come here.
I’m going to close with an unusual recommendation. Get a copy of The Nativity Story and watch it before Christmas. It is delightfully accurate and touching on so many levels. And remember, it all really happened! This one is true! I believe embracing the truth brings joy.
Jesus really did come that your joy might be complete. In the growing light of the third Sunday of Advent, remember that joy is yours. Don’t write it off as hopelessly beyond reach. Emmanuel. God is with you. And He brings you joy.
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 13, 2010