But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Luke 2:10 (NIV)
What must those humble shepherds have thought when they heard the angels proclaiming joy for everyone? Did that include them, even them? Did they anticipate freedom from Rome? Perhaps relief from their hardships and marginalization? How did those shepherds define joy?
As part of that vast throng to whom the message of joy applies, how do we today characterize joy? Is joy a permanent fix for chronic physical suffering? Is it the mending of broken hearts? Is it the realization of a dream that has long eluded us? How do we define joy?
We know that joy is distinguished from happiness, which is dependent on circumstances. Joy is not temporary; it’s not based on emotions, relationships, or things; and it’s not egocentric. Joy can’t be intimidated. It is a gift from God and is a fruit of the Spirit. We don’t produce joy; God causes it to grow in us as we love, obey, and abide in him.
This abiding in him in which our heart is turned to him produces that joy that strengthens and empowers us in all circumstances when happiness would abandon. While happiness seduces us to look inward, constantly measuring personal satisfaction and comfort, joy opens our eyes to the eternal and God’s perspective of our world. We see his hand, his care, his love, his provision, his opportunity, and so on rather than time-bound circumstances.
On our recent trip to Uganda, we took time to visit the Martyr’s Shrine that honors 45 Christians who died in the late 20th Century when they acknowledged a King greater than the Kabaka (tribal king). The young men refused to abandon their faith even when threatened with death. Some were dragged, others experienced amputation of extremities, and still others were disemboweled. Those brave Christians were next wrapped all around with sticks and then roasted on a huge fire. For some it took three days to die.
So what does this have to do with joy? Those young men are not honored every June 3 on Martyr’s Day simply because they would not denounce Jesus Christ or their faith in him. The eyewitnesses who watched them suffer said that they all died while singing hymns of praise to their King. Joy cannot be extinguished by earthly devices. Perhaps they each experienced that Fourth Man in the fire (Daniel 3:25) who graced them with joy that overcame all pain.
The angel’s message of joy to the world is the gift of Jesus in whose presence is fullness of joy; at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11). REAL, never-ending joy that lasts forever.
Father, we are so easily satisfied with temporary, superficial things. Awaken us to the eternal riches that are found only in you. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.