A journey of joy and peace

By Lisa M. Pratt

What comes to mind when you think of the word “joy”? Often we equate joy to a positive experience that brings us a sense of excitement. Indeed, most dictionary entries describe joy in terms of felt emotions—“delight, happiness, a good feeling.” It is certainly a blessed gift when we experience circumstances in life which evoke any of these emotions, but what happens to us when the roads of life cause our hearts to leap with gladness one moment and sink in despair the next? How do we hold on to unchangeable joy and peace even in the midst of sorrow, anguish, and fear?

Jessica made the cheerleading squad and excitedly rushed home to tell her family. When she arrived she found her parents grieving in the living room. A family friend had been killed in a car accident. Her joy had turned to sadness.

Christina couldn’t believe she had been asked to the dance by the boy of her dreams. She instantly began fantasizing about the magical evening. Quickly and excitedly, she sent a group text to all of her friends only to be crushed when she later learned that she was his second choice. Her joy had turned to anger and dejection.

Maggie and Steven dated all through high school. Their relationship was the envy of all of Maggie’s friends. When Steven proposed to Maggie at their graduation ceremony, his thoughtfulness and romanticism caused the young ladies who were present to let out an audible gasp of delight before cheers erupted. However, three years into their marriage the weight of the reality of their youthful decision to wed came crashing in. The excitement of young love had vanished. Maggie was pregnant and Steven accused her of intentionally causing it to happen. He was angry at the forthcoming intrusion into his life. His young love for Maggie turned into bitter avoidance of her. Her joy had turned to fear, loneliness, and rejection.

What happened?

It is certainly not wrong to feel negative emotions, but when our joy is based on what we sense at any given time, its foundation is like the wind. How quickly our feelings shift, move, and blow away. We are like fallen autumn leaves which rest on the ground for a moment before they are carried up again. No one knows where they will finally land. Is this how we want to live? Is this how we ought to live?

Life is sure to be filled with countless joys and numerous sorrows, but these need not be opposed to one another. In the midst of our greatest grief, our hearts can still abound with stable joy and peace. God designed us to experience powerful emotions, but these must be rooted and grounded in something much richer and fuller than the whims of our flesh. When we are ruled by our feelings, we elevate the created above the Ruler of creation.

A journey of joy and peace…

In a town called Nazareth, a young girl was going about her life as normal when she was suddenly greeted by an angel. He informed her that she would conceive and bear a child although she had never been with a man. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment and consider how terrifying this encounter might have been. Knowing that fear would be the natural response, the angel urged her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” This ordinary teenage girl had been chosen to conceive and bear the Son of the Most High!

Later, Mary made a visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who was also with child. Upon their greeting, the baby within the womb of Elizabeth leaped for joy! By the power of the Holy Spirit, even this unborn child responded to the presence of the One whom Mary would soon deliver. Mary’s response as she increasingly understood the responsibility placed upon her turned her away from her initial fear to joyful singing,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

She, too, comprehended the magnitude of what was about to occur. Her uncertainty was turned to joy, and her trepidation was turned to peace.

On the night when Jesus was eventually born, an angel appeared to shepherds in a nearby field to announce the Savior’s birth. He informed them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…” Suddenly, a multitude of angels appeared proclaiming peace to all with whom God is pleased. The shepherds speedily sought out the child and rejoiced at his appearance. Their curiosity was turned to joy.

What was the reason for this joy? How did this infant bring about peace?

You see, the joy that is spoken of here is not the type of momentary gladness that we ordinarily experience at the birth of a child. By faith, their joy was grounded in the significance of who this child was. This is a joy that “will be for all the people.” Why? What is it about this child?

In order to grasp the fullness of the joy proclaimed in Jesus’ birth, we have to take a quantum leap thirty-three years into the future, as the permanence of this joy and peace is revealed to us much later.

As this little child grew, he lived a life full of grief and sorrow, yet the Son of God took on humanity willingly that he might bear our scorn, shame, fear, and pain in order to provide our source of everlasting joy. As Jesus prepared for his upcoming death, praying to the Father for his people, the Son says these words, “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” What does this mean?

The best definition of joy that I have come across is found in the Collins English Dictionary. It describes joy as:  a deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment (emphasis mine). A condition is more than a feeling; it is an existing state of being. So, what is the cause of our condition of happiness? Rather, who is the cause?

By Jesus’ prayer that his joy would be fulfilled in us, he reveals to us that he alone is our source of everlasting joy. His joy was in the gifts that the Father had given him (the gift of his people). His joy was that following his death, he would reunite with his Father and be glorified in his presence. His joy is that he is now glorified in his people who have received him. When Christ died, our sins and sorrows were buried with him in the tomb. In his resurrection, we too were raised with him. We possess everlasting joy not based upon our circumstances, but upon the One who is joy, for he himself is our peace.

Although we currently still live in this fallen world with fickle emotions, we, at the same time, already possess Heaven’s purest joy regardless of the shiftiness and impulse of the earth’s wind in our everyday lives. So, even in the midst of trials and sorrow, our hearts remain joyful as we reflect on the One who is Joy, the Messiah, our Savior and King.

 

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN OUR JANUARY 2016 PRINT EDITION

Lydia TaverneComment