I’ll be honest; I’m struggling with JOY.
Remember the first week of Advent where I said of the weekly themes (Hope, Peace, JOY, Love): “In the church we toss these words at people like fuzzy blankets, all happy and glittery. In reality they have depth and strength to them that are highly underrated”? Gosh. I keep coming back to that. This world is messy and hard and broken. I mean seriously – my heart is breaking over Aleppo (see how you can help here and here). Not to mention all the other heart wrenching events of this year. And JOY – it seems the most fuzzy and glittery of them all.
JOY. I always come back to it. JOY seems unfair in a world wrought with suffering. It seems unjust when across the world people are dying.
But JOY! JOY is part of Advent – part of the Christmas season – because the angel told the shepherds that Jesus is good news of GREAT JOY.
I found this quote from G.K. Chesterton about JOY that totally rocked me. Read slowly:
“Man is more himself…when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. Yet, according to the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic, this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled. Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one comer of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity.
This is what I call being born upside down. The skeptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstasies, while his brain is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found his feet again he knows it. Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. The vault above us is not deaf because the universe is an idiot; the silence is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world. Rather the silence around us is a small and pitiful stillness like the prompt stillness in a sick-room. We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy: because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce. We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.”
If you skipped that, or skimmed it, or just read the parts in bold (I work with college students, I know how this works), here’s the gist: JOY should be our eternal state of mind. JOY should not be something we only experience when things are good. JOY should be our baseline. This is the upside down world that God intended for us. People who do not know the good news of the actual Christmas story live in a world they think is right side up, but in fact are missing out on all of it. JOY, true eternal JOY, is so overwhelming to our fragile humanity that we can barely handle it.
So it often feels like JOY is selfish. I feel like I can have JOY because I am fortunate. My white American life is so easy, I feel like JOY is similar to being #blessed. But again, that is happiness, not JOY. JOY isn’t a privilege, it is a requirement.
If JOY is a state of being, then it isn’t dependent on our circumstances. It is a choice in the midst of our circumstances. And we need to choose it.
For me to look at someone in the midst of heartbreak or tragedy and tell them to remain in JOY seems difficult and naïve, to say the least. However, the angels came to a world full of struggles and said it: Jesus is our good news of great JOY. And that is all we need in order to have JOY in this life.
All we can do is choose JOY in the midst of whatever life throws at us, to prove to a weary world that the story and person of Jesus really is good news. That we really have all we need in order to experience JOY, in the person of Jesus Christ.