Finding Joy

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them into it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him.
— Matthew 2:9-11a
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They say, “Opposites attract.” I guess sometimes it is true.

The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday (or “Joyful Sunday”) because the waiting is almost over. So much to anticipate! Joy is a word tossed around in Christian circles pretty often because it is something that we are supposed to have. It is bigger than our circumstances. It is bigger than our pain or fear. But how? How is joy possible when we feel the opposite?

Joy is defined by Merriam-Webster like this: “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” Sounds kind of Christmassy to me (is that a word?). Togetherness, getting what you wanted, being blessed enough or good enough to get what you wanted—the world’s view of joy. Sounds so warm and fuzzy.

The opposite of joy is sadness, sorrow, unhappiness, and misery. But they say, “Opposites attract,” right? Does sorrow attract joy? One of the marks of a Christian is someone able to find joy even in the midst of heartache, grief, anxiety, and struggle. But again, how is this even possible? Because most of the time it seems an impossible task. 

In Zephaniah 1-2, sorrow abounds. Judgment. Brokenness. Isolation. Torment because “the people did not trust in the Lord . . . or draw near to God” (3:2).  Reading it, you can’t help but want to skip to the next book to jump over all of this yucky judgment stuff. But I actually kind of love that it’s there. Hang with me for a second. If it wasn’t there, I don’t know that chapter 3 would feel as good. 

Reading the first two chapters feels like the bitter cold. Then you come to 3:14-20, and it feels like warmth by a fireplace.  

“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; 

Shout, O Israel! 

Rejoice and exult with all your heart, 

O daughter of Jerusalem! 

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; 

He has cleared away your enemies. 

The King of Israel, the Lord is in your midst, 

A mighty one who will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness; 

He will quiet you by his love; 

He will exult over you with loud singing. 

I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, 

So that you will no longer suffer reproach. 

Behold, at that time I will deal 

With all your oppressors. 

And I will save the lame

And gather the outcast, 

And I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 

At that time I will bring you in,

At that time when I gather you together; 

For I will make you renowned and praised 

Among all the peoples of the earth, 

When I restore your fortunes before your eyes.”

As much as I wish we could dive into this passage deeply, I want you to simply see the new themes of hope and joy and love and acceptance and community and salvation. How incredibly beautiful! How in the world can the people go from judged to saved? From outcasts to welcomed? From broken to healed? From sorrow to joy? From abandoned to loved? From separated from God to being in the presence of God? 

Enter Jesus. The Advent of Christ. The Advent of Joy. 

How is a Christian able to feel joy in the midst of darkness and sorrow? 

By finding Jesus. He has already come for us. Do we see this? Do we choose to remember this? This Jesus has saved and is saving. This Jesus has defeated our oppressors and will win the war in the end. He has healed the lame and gathered the outcasts, and there will be no more tears in Heaven. He has brought hope in hopelessness. Peace in despair. Gladness in mourning. God incarnate, born in an impossible way, came to live among us, take our sin and pain on his back and die for us, and raise to life again so that the darkness would be defeated, so that we can have hope of eternity with God.  When the wise men found Jesus, they must have known this because they felt “exceedingly great joy” and could not help but worship Him. 

When we find Jesus, we find Joy. 

It feels so hard to have joy when you are staring at an empty bank account and an even emptier Christmas tree. Or when you want to call your mom to tell her Merry Christmas, but she is not here anymore. Or you wish you had a baby to hold or a spouse to cuddle up next to by the fire. Finding joy is so hard when you get fired or when the medical bills almost do you in or when anxiety paralyzes you from engaging with others. It is hard when you get a cancer diagnosis or find out your child has made a terrible decision. It is hard when no one comes to see you on Christmas. Finding joy in the midst of sorrow—it seems like a lot of effort. 

But when we find Jesus, we find joy. The beauty of coming to Jesus is that he makes it effortless—a joy that is effortless because we don’t create it. Or try to muster it up. We just accept it. It is ours for the taking. A joy that does not change our circumstances, but that does not change despite our circumstances. A joy that is fueled by gratitude and truly knowing the one who has saved us. A joy that knows this world and all of its sorrow is not the end! Joy has come! Let’s grab it and spread it during this Advent season. 

Joy is born out of trust and hope and gratitude and faith in [the] coming kingdom. We have a reason to rejoice. And it’s not denial or innocence or naivety or stupidity. Joy is the affirmation of the truest thing of all: redemption, restoration, reconciliation.
— Sarah Bessey, Joy: Third Sunday of Advent