If there is a word that should capture the heart of a Christian during the advent season, I would say it is joy. Joy is a flame set ablaze by the hope of Jesus’ life. It is steady. It is powerful. It has the authority to warm your soul in the midst of darkness. It is a form of resistance against the enemy and his schemes. This time of year should remind us of the joy that burst through the dark night, crying in a manger. The joy that caused shepherds to flock, Magi to journey, Mary to trust, and animals to lay quiet in the presence of the living fulfillment of God’s word. Joy is found in the person of Jesus who came to the world to live a perfect life, die a brutal death, gloriously resurrect, and leave us the Holy Spirit so that we can live forever in His presence. This joy lives vibrantly within us, in opposition to the darkness of the world.
I used to think of joy as a sort of bursting, like a firework or explosion. While sometimes the overflow of joy is similar to a bursting – a confetti-like feeling, expressed in shouting, singing, dancing, jumping, arms raising – I’d say the majority of time it is a steady glow. Just as the sun sometimes explodes over the horizon in a sea of gold and pink, sometimes joy escapes similarly from our heart at the sight of a miracle, an answered prayer, a spiritual realization inspired by God, a good gift or celebration, or a moment of worship. Psalm 32:11 says “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” Outward rejoicing is part of our faith. When we know the power, peace, and love of God we can’t help but outwardly and physically respond to the might of His presence. But most days joy is simply a refusal to fall into the plans of the enemy and lifestyle of the physical world; it is experiencing inwardly and living outwardly the hope we have in Jesus. It is a firm trust fixed on God’s word despite our circumstances.
I think there is a lot of pressure to be joyful, and we don’t always know what that means because of the confusion between joy and happiness. I’ve learned that if I ever feel “pressure” to live out a certain trait or quality of Jesus, then I’m relying on my own strength and own knowledge to do so. When I am relying on God’s strength through regular time in His Word, and praying throughout my day, that is when a natural overflow of joy happens. When we stay connected through His word, we see a clear picture of God and a clear picture of life. When we see His promises and notice how involved He is in our day to day lives, joy will begin to glow steadily within you. The darkness of your circumstances may still be there, but the warmth of the joy that God brings is what keeps us going. Happiness is circumstantial, and joy is found in the unwavering promises of God.
Life can be incredibly difficult and the sorrow it brings can feel crushing – whether it’s a loss, a diagnosis, a disappointment, a heartbreak, or all of the above. How can joy pass the test of time when it comes to these experiences? Or rather, how can we hold on to joy? Romans 12:12 says under the heading Marks of the True Christian: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” We can be joyful in the hope we have for the life that is coming beyond the grave. We can be joyful because as heavy as life can feel, this is the worst it will ever be. Beyond the grave we have life fully restored to perfection in the presence of Jesus. When we truly believe this, the flame of joy cannot be blown out in the sharp winds of tribulation that surround us. In these moments we may not be happy, but we can still have joy.
John 16:20-22 says, “Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish for the joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also, you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you.” Jesus is speaking here to His disciples about the sorrow they will feel in His coming death, but the unwavering joy they will come to know in His resurrection. If you’ve ever gone into labor and given birth, or seen someone do so, you can really see this picture come to life. Labor is the most physically painful experience I’ve ever gone through, but the joy that my two daughters bring to my life is one of the deepest delights I’ve ever known; they brighten my day in a way I couldn’t begin to put into words. Although labor was excruciating, I don’t look into their eyes now and feel that pain, I only feel love. Because we know the promises of God are true, we can believe that what is coming is better than what we are living now (Philippians 3:20). We can believe that God is near and comforts us in times of sorrow and heartache (2 Corinthians 1:3).
Psalm 94:19 says, “When doubt fills my mind, your comfort gives me renewed comfort and cheer.” If you are in a season of doubt or suffering, I hope you can allow the reminder of this season to give you a renewed joy in the promises of God. I hope that steady flame glows within your heart and is not blown out by the sorrows of this world. I hope that the reminder of the promise of God that came bursting into the world with a newborn wail, that precious life that would fulfill all the prophecies laid before Him, strikes a flame that burns so bright within you, the world can see that there is something different about you. I hope your joy is a testimony of resistance against the enemy and his schemes. I hope your joy lies deep within the unchanging heart of God.