Joy is not a word in our everyday vocabulary. Sure, we say we enjoy someone or something. But we don’t say “I feel joy in seeing you.” We say ”I’m happy to see you”. Are joy and happiness the same? What is joy, anyway? Is it giddy delight? Belly-laughter? Merry-making on New Year’s Eve? The mood at tailgate parties? Euphoria over some particular achievement? These are all good for us – but they are not joy. Joy is not the work of comedians or a spontaneous response to an appealing moment.
Joy is a God-word . It is the keen awareness of the presence of God or the coming of God in our life-journey. Isaiah 61.10 gives us a way of naming joy: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” Joy is a Christmas word, but not only a Christmas word. It is a learned response that requires time, patience, and a sustained effort. Ugh! Work! Yes, but surprisingly light-hearted, light-filled work, work in which we become more clearly who we are and we see more clearly who God in Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is for us.
Joy grows in us over a lifetime. The person who has learned joy gazes at, walks in this splendid and at the same time wrecked-up world and sees God’s imprint on life and nature.
Our biblical ancestors who people our liturgical readings lived in times like ours –arduous times in which they worked at their right relationships, and made every effort to be faithful to the Lord. Like them, we are culturally enticed to seek outlets in evasion, fantasy, fleeting pleasures, and activities that are superficial or meaningless. We are invited by our times to believe that we are experiencing joy when we experience these things. Possessing the newest car, the newest toy, the world presumes, is equated with joy. But none of these things lead us to the conviction that God is in love with our world, and us.
Last weekend, in our churches and homes, we lighted the rose-colored candle. It is unique on the Advent wreath, reminding us that God is near, and that in finding God, we find a deep satisfaction in life that is “beyond rubies”, as our British friends would say.
A few days ago, at a local big box outlet mall, I heard the energetic ringing of the Salvation Army bell. The bell-ringer was a twenty something man who had broken his leg, I know not how. Years ago, he had heard about how another young man had dealt with a similar situation. This young man followed suit. Rather than sit around and mope, he festooned his crutches with greens, berries and ribbons, and went out to encourage people’s generous giving. You can believe he was collecting a lot of green in his bucket!
Don’t try to think your way into joy. It’s not a project. Don’t try program it, either. The experience of joy will overtake us if we are open. Be lighthearted and spontaneous at Christmastime. Deep joy and spontaneous fun don’t negate each other. Enjoy the season. Look around you and see for certain that God is in love with the world. We have great cause to rejoice.
~Joan Sobala, SSJ
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