Overtaken by Joy

I was a sinner, in a place where happiness seemed so elusive when my dad gave me a book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Yeah, it went over like a led zeppelin, burnin’ hotter than hydrogen. I did, however, read the book and I love how Viktor Frankl, a famous Jewish survivor of World War II Nazi concentration camps, couched this phrase about pursuing happiness. Frankl writes: It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness. Though Joy includes happiness, it truly runs much deeper. Joy permeates our souls. Joy is the word for the birth of our children. It sums our wedding day. Joy, the exuberance of being declared cancer free, for good. Joy is what we experience in coming to Jesus Christ.

Joy is rooted in gratitude, meaning, and filled with hope, especially when it is based in a meaningful relationship with our Creator. Joy comes from God with Us—because Jesus is the source of our joy. Advent reminds us of John 16:22~So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (NIV) Like Nehemiah the Old Testament Jewish leader who faced great odds in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, we can experience the truth that the joy of the Lord is our strength Nehemiah 8:10~ (NIV) Jesus came to fix our broken, sinful condition and will come again to take us home. Joy understands that there is more than meets the eye. God is always at work, even in the tough stuff. He makes everything right, healed and whole Remember in Luke 2:9-10~ (ESV) The angel said Do not be afraid…I bring great joy. God with Us, As Paul writes to the Philippians 4:4~Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 

This Christmas, you may be facing a battle that wants to strip you of your joy, so I remind you of Psalms 5:1 and 11~O Lord, hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning…let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy. (NLT)

Our Takeaway: Have defiant joy in Jesus. The Joy of the Lord is not dependent upon our circumstances. Jesus Christ came to bring us His Joy. Famously, James said it best at the beginning of his eponymous book: 1:2-3~Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. James 1:4~So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be complete, needing nothing. (NLT) Saints, the Joy of the Lord defiantly stands in the face of illness, of pain, of struggle. As you pray with me, why not come to the Lord and find defiant Joy.



Joy

Immanuel, God with us, unleashing joy on the earth. He was already rippling joy that permeated and pressed outward. Luke 1:57~Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. (ESV) When Lizzy gives birth to John three months later, the joy of her miracle spread through her village and family. Perhaps there is no greater joy than that of a mother holding her newborn child. Like salvation when we’re embraced by our heavenly Father for what feels like the first time. For Lizzy, the joy must have been especially overwhelming and sweet. Experiencing a miracle, a mature woman, advanced in her life learning, was touched by God, a miracle ensued and healed the hurt of a lifetime. Pain gave way to great Joy, disrespect became esteem, scorn and reproach were replaced by the honor. This it was only the beginning of miracles she would witness in her lifetime. What would you and I give to know such joy? To see the scars and shame and pain of life washed away so dramatically? Advent — Joy: Long, See, Glorious.

An inexpressible and glorious joy, that’s deep stuff. Most likely we won’t see it happen through such an obvious miracle, but the joy Lizzy experienced is still available to us today. This is the joy brought to us by Jesus. Though we’re living long past His time on earth, His life and His joy are available to us now. Listen to apostle Peter in, 1 Peter 1:8-9 ~Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (ESV)

This runs much deeper than happiness. We love to be happy. We love to feel good. But happiness comes and goes as circumstances around us change by the hour, minute, or post. Happiness can come from many things: Birthday, our favorite song on a perfect summer day. An encouraging word from a friend. Winning the big game. Even a delicious meal. These are good and enjoyable things to be savored for sure, but they’re all fleeting like happiness. Pursuing happiness for the sake of happiness can cause us to be shallow and self-centered. We must focus our lives and all that God has given us, outlaws for His cause of the Gospel and turn inward.



Belief

See the source on an ordinary day with Zech at work in the temple, the angel Gabriel showed up with a most miraculous message. Zech couldn’t even tell his wife what the angel had said. He would have had to either written out or played Pictionary. We don’t know if Lizzy could read, some towns only had one person who could read in their day, with a literacy rate of 1.5% is what scholars believe. Zech may have taught her, or they played gestures, another fun game. Wouldn’t it have been great for Zech to have social media to share like so many do today, to convey the news? Lizzy must have thought she was getting the wrong message at first. Eh start over seems too good to be true! Hope must have kicked her in the heart like the thump of a baby in her womb. Joy would have filled, her now swelling heart.

Could she allow herself to go there? Oh, the Joy at the possibility after waiting for so long, praying in endless nights, only to be let down again and again and again, waiting. Are you still praying for that need, lobbing your prayers to heaven that God would step in and answer? From Luke’s account Lizzy seems to have had an easier time, then Zech did accept the miraculous news. Soon she was saying, Luke 1:25~Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people. (ESV) What’s curious is that Luke shares that Lizzy spent the first five months of her pregnancy in seclusion. (ESV) There’s no way for us to know exactly why, but there is no doubt that she must have been clinging to the source, to see what God would do next.

The scripture records in her sixth month of pregnancy, Lizzy experienced another deep encounter with joy brought by the coming Messiah, whose human life had just sprung into being inside Mary’s womb. Luke 1:41-42~And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! (ESV) Mary in dueling harmony burst forth from her own joy singing praise and thanksgiving to God. 

We call this the Magnificat—My Soul Magnifies the Lord. Without Mary even having to explain, Elizabeth knew and gave voice to exactly what was going on. Maybe God had revealed this, perhaps the Lord shared through her own miracle son, John, who recognized the miracle Son of God, within Mary. More than anyone else in the world, these two women understood each other and shared a joy that could no longer be contained. Joy, no matter how difficult the circumstances, or what still lay ahead.