Tidings of Great Joy!

One of the best animated movies of recent years was the Pixar film, Inside Out. Even if you don’t regularly watch animated films, this one is worth watching for everyone. The premise is a pre-teen girl, Riley, moving across country with her family to a new city, but instead of the focus being on what is happening in her world, we get to live out the events with 5 characters living inside of her, who represent the emotions of joy, anger, fear, disgust and sadness. To some degree or another, these emotions control the way Riley responds to her environment, with each new experience generating new memories that are defined by one of these emotions.

Joy is the protagonist of the movie and she is the type A driver of Riley’s life, steering her away from experiences that would bring anger, fear, disgust and especially sadness, which often acts like a polar opposite of joy in their journey. In this film, Joy is defined by happy, fun experiences, victories and triumphs and warm fuzzy family memories. The character, Joy, drives Riley’s life consistently towards her definition of joy, but over the course of the movie (spoiler alert), she learns that joy can be more complex, sometimes mixed with other emotions, even sadness.

I mention this film because this might be the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they think about the topic of joy. Joy is not a common word in our society. The other recent most well-known pop culture reference to joy is probably from the Japanese organizing consultant, Marie Kondo, who developed a system for organizing everything from your closet to your life around the principle of getting rid of anything in your life that doesn’t “spark joy”. Spark Joy was the name of one of her bestselling books that espoused her philosophy. “Kondo’s mission is to help us identify what brings joy while simultaneously cultivating more of it.”

Before this, the most common usage was probably the popular Christmas song, Joy to the World. This song ties well into a meaning of true joy, the kind of joy defined in the Bible. Even though joy is not used frequently in today’s English, it is seen as a desirable thing. In fact, not only is it desirable, but the Christian New Testament talks frequently of the joy that Christ came to bring and that a follower of Christ should experience. So, my question of the day is, if Christians are to experience joy, why don’t we see more of it on a day to day basis? If someone followed us around in person or on social media, would they find joy demonstrated? Not necessarily the simplistic joy of an emotion or of getting rid of something you don’t need, but the true joy as defined by God’s Word? Let’s first take a look at some of what the Bible has to say about joy.

The song joy to the world refers to the birth of Christ and the angel’s message to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-11:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

This was the best news possible, the coming of Jesus, providing an opportunity for “all the people” to experience salvation for our sins. That was truly “good news of great joy.”

Jesus Himself talks about the joy we have in Him in John 15:9-11:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15 is the wonderful passage where it talks about us being grafted into Christ as the true vine. As we live in Him or “abide” in Him, then we are told His joy may be in us and our joy may be full. From Jesus, we get the picture of experiencing true joy by staying connected to Jesus and to His love. Keeping God’s commandments and abiding in that love. There is joy in living life on this earth in unity with Christ in this way. Paul talks about joy in several places. In Philippians 2:1-2 he writes:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Paul has a similar type of thought. He has found many wonderful blessings from his relationship with Christ and he wanted the joy of knowing the Philippian Church, who he cared about deeply, would experience the same blessings. When you invest in people, whether it is your children or someone else in your life, it does bring joy to see them doing well, especially following God. In many of Paul’s letters, Paul talks of his joy and that of his fellow believers. Often this is paired with accounts of enduring suffering for the Gospel. James’ view of joy would be compatible with this in James 1:2-4

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Joy isn’t the presence of convenience and comfort or the absence of suffering, but it is living in the fulfillment and completeness of Christ. Those James was writing to were the first century believers who scattered from Jerusalem as they were persecuted for their faith. Most everyone who received that letter would have endured trials that most of us would have trouble imagining, and yet there was joy to be found in them as long as these followers were drawn closer to Christ. One last passage to look at, though I’m barely scratching the surface of all the passages of Scripture that talk about joy. This one is from 1 John 1:1-4:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

For John, the secret to joy was Christ and telling other people about who He is and what Jesus has done for him. Nothing could bring John more joy than to talk about Jesus and to follow Him. This was the pattern of the 1st century believers. They were not defined by what they had, but rather who they knew. The secret of their hope and their joy was in Christ and in telling others about Him.

Back to the original question, “if Christians are to experience joy, why don’t we see more of it on a day to day basis?” The answer is in the text. Regardless of their individual circumstances, many Christians are missing the opportunity to even know if they can have true joy because their lives are so centered on everything but Christ. Instead of knowing Christ and telling others about Him, they are too busy advocating for the world, disappearing into the world’s entertainment or finding some fight to argue in, which wouldn’t matter to any of the participants if they were to die tonight without Christ.

Compare this to the joy of growing daily in the Lord, encouraging others in His word and caring for one another’s needs. Compare it to proclaiming the love of Christ to someone for the first time or seeing someone respond to that message and be baptized. As followers of Christ, that is where you will find joy. It isn’t hidden, it just isn’t often looked for.

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