This week at our church and at other churches around the world the Joy candle was lit.
Most of you know these lyrics to the popular carol:
Joy to the world
The Lord is come
Let earth receive her king
Something about joy makes me twinge with cynicism. Even when I'm careful to remember that joy isn't just a sentimental emotion, there's a part of me that thinks joy is overrated. Then I remember, maybe happiness is what I'm thinking of.
Happiness is fleeting. It comes and goes. As the circumstances of our lives change, so does our happiness. I once argued about this with a girl in college. She believed we could always have joy and that we couldn't always be happy. In my naivete, I argued that we could always be happy, because happiness is a part of joy. I was wrong. I don't say this very often, but she was right.
Joy is something that can coexist with any other emotion because its more than just an emotion. Its more than a sentiment. Its more than a feeling that comes and goes as it pleases. Jesus says in John 15:11 "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." What did he tell his disciples? That they can remain in his love by obeying his commands. He also told them that he is sending the Holy Spirit to remind them of everything he taught and commanded them. So it is by obeying Christ that his joy becomes our joy.
What's interesting, is that there are plenty of examples in the Bible where joy and another emotion (whether positive or negative) exist. When the two Mary's discovered that Jesus was not at his tomb in Matthew 28, they "hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy..." I love that phrase "afraid yet filled with joy." We can be full of fear and joy at the same time.
Its like I tell grieving people whose loved one was a Christian, joy and pain can coexist. Its often confusing, frustrating, tiring and strange...but its true, its natural, its necessary and its normal.
That's why the carol "Joy to the World" can be true even in a world where poverty, hunger, Aids and homelessness abound...because pain and joy can and often does coexist.
May your joy be real this advent season, even if its seasoned with pain.