A reflection for the third week of Advent: Joy
It was his first ever Valentine card. He was 17, she was 15. As the school library assistant, he’d watch her sit down and open her books. She’d given him a nickname he liked. Had he believed in it all back then he would have grabbed a Bible to find a verse to tell him what to do… ‘You will go out with Joy.’ (Isaiah 55:12)
He didn’t know how to respond and regretted it. It was a few years before another one arrived (that’s a very different story). For the last 32 Valentine Days he’s received one from the person who has brought him joy (and he’s kept every card too).
Last Sunday, the third of Advent, is sometimes called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete – from the Latin, gaudere which means rejoice: to show great joy.
In the first Advent reflection, I offered thoughts on how being hopeful is a choice. Is being joyful the same? In such times as these, how do we find joy? Does hope come from the mind whereas joy resides in the heart?
Joy is often defined as a feeling of great happiness. Our common experience of joy may often be in response to the transitory things of life – an unexpected present, an uplifting piece of music or an exciting encounter. More often than not, joy comes, lasts for a while, and then goes.
What gives you joy?
The word joy appears over 250 times in the Bible. It’s often connected to people singing for joy (rejoicing) and we read how the visitors from the East on reaching the place where the young Jesus was ‘were overwhelmed with joy.’ (Matt 2:10)
Joy is the word sometimes used to describe those who have received the rewards of faith and witnessed God’s blessings.
Joy is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). In other words, if we allow the Spirit to transform our lives, then we will experience joy and others will witness that within us.
Avery Rimiller put it like this: ‘The biblical definition of joy says that joy is a feeling of good pleasure and happiness that is dependent on who Jesus is rather than on who we are or what is happening around us.’
Taking that definition, what else gives you joy?
James, one of Jesus’ brothers, provides a different slant: ‘Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy,’ (James 1:2).
You’d be forgiven for thinking he was being sarcastic… be joyful in the trials of life? Be joyful in times such as those we are living in at the moment? Really?
So, perhaps what James is suggesting is that like hope, being joyful does contain an element of choice – not least in our response to the difficulties we encounter.
Echoing similar words from Paul in his letter to the Romans (5:3-5), James goes on to write, ‘because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.’ (1:3-4)
This experience of joy, of being joyful in our difficulties, is aligned to the belief that we can receive the peace that passes all understanding (as reflected upon in the last post).
That by placing those difficulties and ourselves in to the love of God, by being dependent on Jesus, we can go out with joy residing in our hearts.