Growing up I have fond memories associated with Christmas. I know that this is not always the case, and Christmas can oftentimes be the most depressing time of the year for many. I am very thankful that my childhood memories of Christmas were positive.
One of my memories at Christmas was the SEARS catalogue. We would always get one in the mail it seemed, and every year the three Holtz kids were able to circle some potential gifts that we would want for Christmas. There were sometimes tense moments between us siblings due to the fact that three pens were ready to mark up the one household catalogue! Nonetheless, we were all able to make our mark or circle a few gifts ideas that our parents would potentially purchase on one of our annual trips to Ottawa or Peterborough for the Christmas shopping event.
It is funny how we remember certain things and not others. There is a running joke in my family that I often do not remember much of my child-hood, and oftentimes am not able to join in on the walk down memory lane. However, looking back I can most definitely remember sitting and looking through those catalogues and circling with hope and anticipation that some of these highlighted items would be wrapped and placed under the tree for me.
In our Advent journey as a church family, the upcoming Sunday celebration is about Jesus, our light and joy!
So let me ask this question: What is joy? OR What brings you joy?
The answer to that question is obviously vastly different in the mind of a child compared to an adult. Children may associate joy with a feeling and emotions that are associated with objects and things. Playing and having fun can be expressions of joy much like receiving a new toy, game or clothing. The same could also be said for adults who also associate joy with feelings of emotional pleasure or the absence of physical pain and suffering.
Joy can also be associated with a spiritual element where joy is found in ones ability to walk according to their giftings, abilities and choices in life. Joy can be a lifestyle of choice and living intentionally so that inward needs are being met through career, vocation and behaviour.
Not matter how you look at it, we can probably all agree that joy is more that simply circling toys in a SEARS catalogue. It is something much more.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe that joy is indeed something more than feelings, emotions and a sense of fulfillment. For me, joy is only found in the presence of the living God.
The Apostle Paul writes that joy is a naturally-supernatural byproduct of the Holy Spirit living inside the follower of Christ. He says that joy is to be like a fruit growing inside believers, and is also a present spiritual reality associated with God’s very Kingdom (Gal. 5:22, Romans 14:17). Paul clearly believes that joy is rooted in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
As a New Testament believer, it is paramount for me to believe that the pouring out of God’s Spirit on the day of Pentecost forever changed our world and humanity’s ability to currently have a dynamic relationship with our Creator that is instantaneous, progressive and eternal.
Without getting into too deep of a theological subject, simply consider the Incarnation event itself. Gabriel’s words to Mary are recorded as this:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
This is the only record of Gabriels announcement to Mary. Thankfully Luke wrote about it! Where would we be without Luke’s account of the Nativity. Or better yet, where would Hallmark be? Regardless, Luke intentionally writes about the Incarnation, and tells us some incredible details pertaining to the birthing of the Immanuel, “God with us”: the Incarnation was a Spirit event.
Notice that the Spirit seems to play a vital role in all of this and brings a divine anointing upon the birthing of the Christ child. There is no doubt a mysterious thing happening here with the eternal Logos and Spirit coming together in Mary’s womb, but the Spirit is definitely at work here. In other words, the Incarnation itself is a pneumatological (Spirit) event.
For the New Testament believer this is crucial because the Bible testifies time and time again that it is the Holy Spirit who brings life. In fact, Jesus Himself testified that the Spirit is the One who gives life (John 6:63).
Ok, enough theology talk. However, having this perspective is very important to living a joy-filled life because I am convinced that real joy is only available through the power of God’s Spirit.
Consider also what Paul says this in Romans 15:
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Did you catch that? Paul refers to God as the One who ‘fills’ any believer with joy, hope and peace. Paul believes that God not only ‘fills’ the believers with all joy and peace, but there is also an ‘overflow’ that comes via the Spirit! In other words, divine joy is available because of God’s Spirit, the living ‘God with us’ now.
What does this mean for your definition or experience of joy? It means that all other sources or experiences of joy are only temporary and fleeting. They will not last. They will fade away and become a distant memory. Those old SEARS catalogues are long gone and so are the toys that were purchased from it. The memory is real, but that’s all. There is no lasting joy from it.
The only real, genuine, life-giving joy comes from the God of the Israel; the God Hebrews; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of the Bible; Yahweh, the Great I AM.
The Bible is a testimony to the Who and What real joy is and looks like. The Bible is a written witness about the loving God who came to bring humanity back to Himself and change our minds about Him in the process. The Incarnation is living proof of this. The announcement is clear. The purpose is stated: good news of great joy.
You see, Yahweh is a God of love, compassion and mercy. His goal is to bring peace on earth and blessed favour amidst the chaos and darkness of night. His light shines and brings seeking humanity to it. His anthem is good news of great joy for all people because His Messiah, Jesus Christ has been given to all people. Through Jesus, Yahweh has provided the only Way, Truth and Life so that all people, everywhere would be able to experience His abundant life here and forevermore.
Simply stated, joy is found in Jesus. He is light and joy. This means three things for me.
This means that the source of my joy is not in things, but in the presence of the living God. This is good news. God’s ability and awesomeness goes way beyond my limited, natural comprehension. God dwells in eternity and His energy is infinite and inexhaustible. He is the well that never runs dry.
This means that the substance of my joy is not based upon feelings, emotions or circumstances. The substance of my joy is found in the Personhood of God. The Trinity is indeed a mystery to us. We have formulated and theologized what we think the God-head is over the centuries, and the theory of the Trinity has become orthodox. Whatever you think about the Godhead, there seems to be a cooperative fellowship within the Trinity that is rooted in divine love. This divine love exists between Father, Spirit and Son. This divine love is the substance of my joy. Knowing that I am loved by God brings me joy. Knowing that there is nothing I can do to gain more or lose His love for me is a marvel. All in all, my joy flows from the divine love of God.
This means the stance of my joy is other people focused. Within the Incarnation the marvellous mystery of the Godhead came together in cooperative fellowship to birth the God/man Jesus Christ of Nazareth. We refer to this awe inspiring event as the Immanuel event or the ‘God with us’ advent. His first coming was based upon the mission to reconcile the world and restore humanity to His goodness and loving mercy. The Logos became flesh so that humanity would be redeemed from its dark, chaotic existence. The stance of my joy is likewise positioned. My joy needs to impact others and flow towards the hurting, broken and wounded. It is not enough to be happy and joyous within myself alone. My joy needs to affect others positively. It needs to be other people focused.
This time of year can generate many different thoughts and opinions about life, meaning and happiness. My prayer is that everyone will come to know the joy of the Lord. He is my strength and He can also be yours.