Joy to the world—the Lord is come!
Joy to the world—all the boys and girls now! Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me!
OK, I admit it—this week’s blog has been the most difficult of this series for me to write. The good news is I’ve been singing
Jeremiah was a bullfrog
Was a good friend of mine
I never understood a single word he said
But I helped him a-drink his wine
And he always had some mighty fine wine
for days (I know you’re humming along now—you’re welcome)! Look, I’m a joyful person—my Hot Husband, our children and grands, our extended family and friends, a lovely glass of wine with Jeremiah the Bullfrog all bring me great joy! So it’s not that I don’t like JOY or I don’t have JOY or that I need to find JOY in the journey. It’s just that JOY is so dadgum hard to explain, right? It’s one of those nebulous things that we know it when we feel it and we profoundly feel its absence when we lack it—but what is the actual definition of JOY?
The dictionary gives these meanings: a profound feeling of happiness; a feeling of great pleasure and happiness; the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune; delight, exuberance, elation, bliss; to rejoice; to delight. These definitions seem to me to be vague, hazy and even transitive. Can’t JOY be abiding; can’t it come to stay?
Celebrating Advent trains us in waiting. JOY comes, many times, as a result of the wait. Expectation, longing, desire—these are components of JOY. One of the dictionary definitions of JOY is the emotion evoked by the prospect of possessing what one desires. The mere thought of having what we want can bring JOY.
At the time of Jesus’s birth, God hadn’t been formally heard from in centuries; God’s people were under an oppressive Roman rule; Israel’s religion was fractured—it was serious darkness for the Jews. The prophecy in Isaiah 9:2 references this, The people who walk in darkness will see a great Light—a Light that will shine on all those who live in the land of the shadow of death. The light of Jesus comes—then and now—into the darkness of our night.
Two of our grandchildren spent the night with us recently and we turned on all the Christmas lights. The next morning, they wanted to see the outside lights. I said, “We can’t see them today. The lights only show up when it’s dark.” As I reflected on that, I realized that we can best see the Light of the World when our worlds are dark. The people waiting for Messiah had been told, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you…” (Zephaniah 3:16-17). There is JOY because of Emmanuel, God with us.
When the angel Gabriel made the announcement to Mary that she would carry the Messiah, he began with the Greek greeting, “Rejoice! Be glad!” Some scholars see this salutation as the beginning of the New Testament, of news that would be joyful to all people in all places for all time. Jesus comes—then and now—for all to experience JOY.
JOY is strewn throughout the narrative of Jesus’s birth. John the Baptist leapt for JOY in his mother’s womb when Mary came to visit. On the night of Jesus’s birth, the angels brought the shepherds “good news of great JOY, which is for all people” (Luke 2:10). There the shepherds were, going about their ordinary lives, doing their jobs, when JOY burst on the scene! The most joyful news ever given caused the shepherds to act on their JOY and run to see the baby. Later, the Magi from the east “rejoiced with great JOY” (Matthew 2:10) when the star led them to Jesus.
JOY is a knowing, a confidence that Christ comes to set things right. The baby Jesus comes to usher in a new kingdom, an upside-down kingdom in which the last are first and the first are last; a kingdom of servant-leaders; a kingdom wherein the poor are equal to the powerful. JOY is knowing that restoration is on its way, that shalom has been born and waits to be born in us today. JOY is in God’s kingdom come, in knowing that our world is being put back together by its creator by means of a baby born in Bethlehem.
Whether you sing Joy to the world! The Lord is come! or Jeremiah was a Bullfrog (or both, like I do), as you prepare him room, may the JOY of Christ be yours today, during Advent and throughout the coming year!
How will you make room for JOY in your everyday life this season? Share in the comments below to encourage us!
Photo via Unsplash.
About Janene Cates Putman
Janene Cates Putman is a literary publicist and marketing coach, activist, writer, and speaker. She and her Hot Husband live in the mountains of east Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @jdixie0105.