"Joy", by Susan Hilario
Secular Christmas songs and greetings often urge us to be happy or merry: We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Happy Holidays. We look forward to the pretty lights and upbeat music every year, but tire of it after a month or two. It delights us for a while, but it can't sustain the level of contentment that we seek. When we understand the true meaning of Christmas, however, our focus changes from happiness to joy- true, lasting joy.
Jesus talked about full or complete joy, the kind that endures. To those who belong to him he says, “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (John 16:24),” and prays, “that they may have the full measure of my joy within them (John 17:13).” Apparently, he was talking about a kind of joy that is so deep and permanent and all-encompassing that, come what may, we will never be without it. In John 16:22 he said, “…and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
Joy is a characteristic that makes Christians different from those who have no hope. What about adverse circumstances? Paul sang in jail. If we have the Spirit of Christ, and we do if we belong to him, then joy is one of the fruits that comes with the presence of that Spirit. Perhaps it falls to us then to choose to rejoice. Paul said we should always rejoice in the Lord, because the Lord is near (Phil. 4:4,5). The nearness of the Lord is the reason we can rejoice. Not that we don’t get sad, and weep and grieve. A sickness, a disappointment, a frustration, an injustice, or a loss descends on us and we are affected, sometimes crushed, but the Lord taught that we need not succumb to it. He speaks of an underlying joy that will see us through it, and this comes from being near Him.
In praying for believers, Jesus talked about our unity, with each other, with him, and with the Father that we should all be one in complete unity. Wouldn’t that, then, make available to us the kind of joy in question? The ultimate complete joy is truly knowing the Father and the love that he and the Son share. In the last recorded prayer of Jesus, before he went to the cross, the last thing he said was, “ I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them (John 17:26).” Real joy, then, must depend on getting to know the Father and on being one with the Lord.
We rejoice because the Lord is near. For the prophets, it was on the way. They were looking and waiting for it. For us, it is here. He is here, his Spirit living in us. We commune with him. We still look for, wait for the day when we will see him as he is, but in the meantime, we have his presence within us, a deposit, guaranteeing what will be ours when he comes the next time. So, whatever our circumstances, because of his presence, we can still choose joy.
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