Witness

A Call For Joy (Even in the Dark Spaces of Our World)

Somewhere, a family in Chicago gathered around a table for Thanksgiving, but this year a child is missing from the feast. May it be he was tried unjustly as an adult, or killed at the face of gun violence – he just was just one of 400 or so deaths this year.

‘Tis the season of joy?

Somewhere, a mother roams the streets of a country that is not her own. Fear, desperation, and maternal instinct drove her to cross a dangerous sea with nothing but her own clothes on her back and her infant nestled in her sling. Where will she raise her children? Where will they rest their weary heads at night?

‘Tis the season of joy?

Somewhere, debates rage online between brothers and sisters in Christ as those on the outside watch confused by all of the anger, division, and lack of love.

‘Tis the season of joy?

Somewhere, a mom pulls a pillow into her face as she weeps. She never imagined that cancer would wreak havoc on such a small body – and now he’s gone. No child to send to kindergarten, or a son to hand the car keys on his 16th birthday. Gone.

‘Tis the season of joy?

Joy to the World?

This week begins the season of joy. Although many delightfully embrace this time of year, others see joy as the furthest thing from reality as despair envelops their cold, weary, aching hearts. It seems like the world is crashing at all ends; it seems impossible to enter into a season of joy.

But it is in this season we remember that somewhere there was a woman who was in dire risk of losing everything – her husband, her family, an income, and protection. Mary, a poor, devout Jewish woman was startled by an angel when she learned that she would give birth to a son – the Son of the Most High, the Messiah:

28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most Highwill overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:28-37)

Mary was not yet united with Joseph, which meant her entire world could easily be ripped out from underneath her feet. But Mary didn’t see it that way; Mary not only boldly responds, she joyously responds:

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:36)
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Joy is Perpetually Looking Forward

Mary was pregnant and at risk of being stoned to death for adultery (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).[1] Nonetheless, she chose joy. Her joy was a worshipful response to the God of Israel whose justice was now being established on earth.      

Mary’s joy was forward-looking. With great joy, Mary anticipates God’s justice and righteousness and deliverance to prevail on earth. As a woman of an oppressed people, Mary looked to the promises of God who would lend a gracious hand to God’s people and bring restoration to the world. It is as N.T. Wright describes,

The “joy” we see in the Gospels is thus not simply the natural human delight in times of healing and reconciliation, though it is that as well. It is the fresh instantiation, in a new (messianic) mode, of the joy expressed in Psalm 126 and elsewhere: the joy of discovering that Israel’s God was at last doing the thing he had promised, rescuing the people from their ‘exile’ and providing forgiveness, restoration, and new life. And it is the joy to be experienced in the fresh presence of God – not now, after all, in a rebuilt temple, but in the person and actions of Jesus – and also the fresh act of God, rescuing people now from Egypt or Babylon but from death itself.[2]

Joy is perpetually looking forward; it is intimately connected to hope – hope that someday the world will once again be put to right, and hope that the Kingdom of God is presently bursting light into the dark, desolate, and broken spaces of our world. It is with great expectation and hope that the people of God will someday know of a world without pain, oppression, brokenness, loneliness, and grief.

Joy is perpetually looking forward; it is intimately connected to hope. Click To Tweet

Joy is Hope and Faith in the God Who Fulfills Promises

Not only is joy forward-looking to the new world order that God is already establishing and will someday fully establish, it is also hope and faith in the God who will fulfill promises. As the people of God, we rejoice for what God has done. We rejoice, for God has heard the cry of God’s people. God split the sea, set the captives free, lived the life we couldn’t live, died the death we should have died; Jesus was raised to new life, and ascended to the throne where Our King now reigns today. We rejoice for what God has done and we rejoice because we know that God will complete the good work. Joy, then, bursts forth in those who trust in God’s deliverance, God’s righteousness, and God’s justice. We therefore claim joy – even in our suffering. Paul says it best:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Joy, then, bursts forth in those who trust in God’s deliverance, God’s righteousness. Click To Tweet

Joy is Best Expressed in Community

Joy characterizes not only the individual, but also the people of God as a gathered community. When the community gathers together – even to lament – the empowering presence of the Spirit surrounds and ministers to the community. Fruits emerge in the community – fruits that are a product of the people of God living in the shared presence of the Spirit. One such fruit is joy (Galatians 5:22-24). It is the fruit of the Spirit, joy, that the community shares a common hope and trust that God is at work in the world and will someday restore the world completely. The community joyously celebrates this by reckless acts of love, generosity, and hospitality. 

When the Church Chooses Joy, We Proclaim a Drastic Alternative to the World Around Us

Friends, the world in which we live in is dark, desolate, and seemingly hopeless. Situations surround us that cause no reason for joy, but we trust in a God that offers something deeper and more profound than temporary feelings of happiness. In a world full of sorrow and pain, we place our hope and foundation in the one who will remove all sorrow, all pain, all death, all injustice, and all war; therefore, though we weep for the world, we rejoice in the Lord. It is in our rejoicing, then, that those on the outside can’t help but peer in, watch with awe and wonder, and notice the joy of the community. The Joy of the Lord enables the church to confront the dark and oppressive spaces of our world with the news of a different kind of empire. The church, then, becomes a drastic alternative of community to the world around us.  

The Joy of the Lord enables the church to confront the dark and oppressive spaces of our world... Click To Tweet

“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning…you have turned my mourning into dancing, and clothed me with joy.” (Psalm 30:6;12)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us rejoice in the Lord. Someday, justice will be the only thing that prevails. Someday there will be a companion for the widow and the lonely. Someday there will be no more weeping or mourning or death or pain. No more. Do we lament? We do. But as we lament, may a supernatural warmth and joy surround us. We rejoice because Jesus is Lord. Click To Tweet

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come; let earth receive her King.”

— 

[1] Scot McKnight, The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007), 10.

[2]  N.T. Wright, “Joy: Some New Testament Perspectives and Questions”, Joy and Human Flourishing: Essays on Theology, Culture and the Good Life, edited by Miroslav Volf, (Minneapolis, MO: Fortress Press, 2015), 48.