What does “joy” mean? For many people the word conjures heightened emotions like euphoria or ecstasy. Such emotional intensity is not sustainable for very long. Eventually mundane concerns like bathing and eating will pull us back down to earth. Joy in the Lord, as described in the readings from Psalm 147 or Jeremiah 31, can certainly have its ecstatic moments, but it is more about a state of existence in which the Lord’s justice is a constant presence in our lives.
The world needs extraordinary people: thinkers, creators, and innovators who lead us forward … but it depends on ordinary people. Some would claim wealth, fame, and other worldly successes are the result of favor from the Lord. The psalmist teaches us the Lord does not delight in extraordinary speed or strength (and by extension wealth or power), but in those who fear him and hope in his love. The world claims to admire those who lead lives of humble service, but in practice we rarely aspire to be them, because they resemble what the world calls failure. Jesus tells us the world will be turned upside down, and the last will be first. The world constantly tempts us to measure ourselves against “the first” so that our sense of whether we are happy becomes comparative and competitive. If our joy instead rests in being a delight to the Lord, and that means hoping in his love, then joy is available to everyone regardless of status.
When Jeremiah talks about joy in the Lord, he speaks of gathering the outcasts, healing the brokenhearted, and lifting up the downtrodden. The Lord intends ordinary lives to be joyful. Unfortunately God’s justice is not the standard of most of the world, so when we hear “ordinary” the implication is often “less than good.” Advent reminds us that, while the world is a fallen place, we look forward to the time when it is restored. When God’s justice finally becomes our standard, ordinary will no longer mean uneventful, boring, or miserable, but full of peace and plenty. You are built for joy; don’t let the world talk you out of it.
Comfort: The joy of the Lord is available to everyone, including you.
Challenge: If something blocks your joy, it usually also stands between you and God. This coming month, identify and work to remove one roadblock between you and God.
Prayer: In you alone, O Lord, will I seek my joy. Amen.
Discussion: Do you think there is a difference between happiness and joy?
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