For whatever multitude of reasons or excuses I could provide, I’ve had this flip-flopping attitude about being settled in God’s everlasting, ever-ready presence for as long as I can remember. Transient. Unsure.
Recognizing His Word and example upon example therein where God proved Himself unabashedly to His people. To me. To you. It just sometimes looked different than what everyone expected.
Knowing in my head that He has been there all along and will always continue to be, but not trusting that promise wholeheartedly. Unreservedly. Faithfully. With steadfast assurance and acceptance that God has never, ever left and that He will always, always show up. Maybe just differently than I think He should.
Head and heart and soul tumbled away from each other and got lost trying to make sense of it all.
And this is where the JOY got lost.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent a lifetime looking for something I didn’t know I couldn’t find easily.
Have you been searching too? Knowing that something has been missing, but not entirely sure of what it has been? While the day-to-day can be good, and there are flashes of great and moments of less-than-awesome, there is still the intangible JOY, that something deeper and more lasting, that remains deeply desired?
Christmas is all about recognizing the JOY of Jesus and His birth.
Mary rejoices in the depths of her faith when she is chosen as the mother and bearer of Jesus, the Savior of humanity for all of eternity. What an intimidating job! And yet, her peace and her humility allow her soul to glorify God in such a unique, yet unbelievably challenging way. For which she rejoices, she is filled with joy. Even when Mary’s relatives largely reject her as an unwed teenage mother who is supposedly impregnated by the Holy Spirit, but whose pregnancy will still have the embarrassing look of a girl who fooled around with some other guy before she was supposed to. Even when her betrothed wants to divorce her quietly because even Joseph doesn’t fully believe her story until an angel backs up Mary’s tale. And yet, she is settled and confident in the knowledge and contentment that the Mighty One has strength and purpose far beyond her understanding or wisdom (Luke 1:46-55). Mary lived the essence of JOY.
And Mary’s JOY was so complete and so overflowing that even her cousin Elizabeth’s baby leaped with JOY in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary told her of the angel’s greeting. And Elizabeth too was filled with the Holy Spirit, with JOY. For Elizabeth understood. She was also being used by God to glorify His greater purpose as she was to be the mother of John the Baptist, who would grow up to proclaim Jesus’s validity as the Son of God and to baptize Jesus for all to see. Together, Mary and Elizabeth rejoiced in their difficult, yet absolutely God-given blessings (Luke 1:39-45). God’s JOY can be catchy like that, spreading its glory and majesty and might in unexpected, unbelievable ways.
For the JOY continued to reach far and wide as angels took their songs of great joy and gladness to the shepherds in sleepy, sheep-y fields. Even an entire heavenly host praised and proclaimed God’s glory to the slightly terrified and overwhelmed sheep-herders, the first audience to hear such amazing and awe-inspiring news. Their JOY became so full that they hurried, which probably doesn’t happen too often when you are used to the munching pace of sheep grazing. They hurried to Bethlehem to see the miracle baby for themselves, to see the Savior of the universe lying as a tiny baby in a dirty, earthy food trough. The most unexpected gift of all looked so unbelievably vulnerable and helpless and weak. How could this be God incarnate? And yet, the JOY that filled them, the settled belief that this wiggly, hungry, crying newborn was indeed the Son of God on Earth, the JOY overflowed in them and spilled out in their good news and glad tidings to everyone the shepherds told about Him (Luke 2:8-20).
The Magi received JOY differently, not from the shepherds’ stories although perhaps that is how the news reached King Herod’s throne. They had seen the star that had supposedly told scruffy, JOY-full sheep-herders where to find the tiny baby Messiah. They had traveled the far distance, had ridden on uncomfortable and smelly camels for quite a time, following a star and a story. And it was not until the Magi were in the very presence of the Lord, in a house where the little Savior stayed, that the wise men became overjoyed. God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, the vulnerable baby Emmanuel exuded JOY such that the riches-bearing men fell to their knees to worship the most unexpected of kings in JOY-full adoration and admiration (Matthew 2:1-12). This king brought wealth that greatly exceeds anything that every other be-crowned past, present, and future aristocrat could ever, ever offer their people.
This unexpected baby Messiah blessed His people, loved His people, brought JOY to His people. Gifts that can never fully be known elsewhere or duplicated anywhere.
Sure, we may have home decor and rustic signs that proclaim the word JOY from our porches and our tree ornaments. I painted one of those signs myself and stuck it next to my front door. My middle daughter loves pointing out every other pronouncement of JOY she sees as we drive by well-lit house displays.
But it becomes really easy to forget that JOY is so much more than just a cute decoration.
Because there is a lot of the year that is not crying out in JOY, just crying out for JOY.
There are a lot of us crying out for JOY rather than crying out in JOY.
Theopedia defines JOY as such… “Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.”
A state of mind.
An orientation of the heart.
Content. Confident. Hope.
Each of those phrases is like a power-punch, filled with God’s richness and overflowing with His mercy, proof of His ever-lasting love and blessings. Even the unexpected ones.
But being settled and content and confident in those promises and gifts can be really, really hard.
Maybe though that is because the search for what was missing, the JOY that I didn’t know I needed until I didn’t have it, left me exhausted and burned out, angry and frustrated.
Maybe because it is when life is its most unsettling, I am not settled and trusting.
Maybe I just plain ignore the blessings and grace God has already given me in abundance.
Maybe I abandon an eternal perspective for an internal perspective, focusing too much on my selfish needs and desires, rather than on how God could be using it all for something greater.
Maybe I neglect His story and the example upon example of His faith-full-ness to each of His children, in all things, for all time.
Maybe I forget to make peace with whatever was swaying my emotional heart and my transient soul, forgot to ask for peace and forgot to ask for joy in the midst of the confusion.
Maybe losing JOY was not His fault. And not really my fault either.
Maybe it sort of happens over time and with distractions and under stress, making it the perfect trifecta to steal that which would bring eternal and internal contentment and peace and hope.
And that makes it the perfect opportunity for God to reveal Himself time and time and time again.
A perfect time for JOY… an unexpected gift we didn’t know we needed.
Stay tuned for an unexpected gift: finding joy