I recently made a list of things that spark joy in my life. I tried not to overthink it and as I wrote them down I found myself smiling and feeling grateful. Life holds a lot of simple pleasures that contribute to our joy: good food, good sleep, good conversations, helping others, obedient children–these were a few of the items on my list. Next I made a list of the things that spark joy for me during the holidays: decorating the tree, baking cookies, having people into our home, finding and giving the perfect gift, wrapping presents, and sitting by the tree listening to Christmas music.
There are also things during the holidays that threaten to rob me of joy. Most are situations that are out of my control: an item I’ve been looking to purchase is sold out and won’t be back in stock until mid-January, sickness interferes with holiday travel or party plans. This year we were having fun choosing a tree from the little hardware store down the street when Jennavieve decided to mix up a bin of nails and throw a handful down the aisle of the store. What had been a pleasant experience was instantly tainted by a moment of disobedience. It’s in situations like this or when I’m caught up in the hustle of getting things done in time for Christmas that I find myself struggling to feel joy.
This bothers me. And it probably should. Discontentment didn’t make the cut as one of the characteristics of a believer and joyless living isn’t something we’re told to pursue.
Why does my joy shift so easily? What would it take for joy to be a constant response in the midst of the ordinary stuff of life, even when met with struggles that I didn’t expect and don’t want?
I think there is an answer in the Advent story and it begins with the first recorded encounter with Jesus.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’ (Luke 1:39-45)
Both of these women were facing life circumstances vastly different from what they had expected. Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah the priest, had been barren for many years, but now in her old age was pregnant with a son who would ‘turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God’ (Luke 1:15-17). She had spent the past five months in hiding with a husband whose disbelief in God’s plan had left him unable to speak (Luke 1:20). This is probably not what she had anticipated for the latter years of her life.
Mary, an unmarried young woman who was now pregnant with the Son of God, was living in obedience to God’s plan, but it was not without difficulty. Her own fiance’ had been tempted to disown her (Matthew 1:19) and as an unwed pregnant woman, she was surely met with disgrace and contempt. As willing as Mary was to receive this task of carrying and raising Jesus as her son, she did not ask for it.
When these women encounter one another in the midst of their unexpected circumstances the immediate response of John the baptist–from Elizabeth’s womb–is one of joy.
John knew that he was in the presence of the Son of God. He knew that Jesus was the lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). And the truth about Jesus–who he was and what he would do–caused John to be filled with joy.
Just as John the baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15), those of us who are in Christ have been given the Spirit and he is at work in us producing fruits that display themselves in our lives. One of these gifts is joy (Galatians 5:22-23). It’s not an if or a maybe. Joy will be produced and evident.
The joy that Jesus came to bring is from outside this world. It is the very joy that Jesus himself has in God the Father— which he has had from all eternity and will have forever. (John Piper)
Yes. Joy is in the eternal, in Jesus Himself and this we know, but it doesn’t always feel this way. Sometimes we know the truth but our hearts lag behind. When this happens, joy becomes something for which we must fight.
Because, oh, how wrong, how sad, when we stand before great wonders and feel nothing. (John Piper)
Sometimes we lose sight of the source of our joy because we’re too consumed by our struggles with inconveniences, interruptions, heartache, and the brokenness of this world. And it is in the midst of these moments that we must turn away from the momentary troubles that press us down and fix our hearts and minds on Jesus.
Advent offers us an opportunity to stand before Jesus and be changed. As we focus on his character the wonder we once had in Jesus is renewed. As we think on the work that he accomplished on the cross we can’t help but be filled with joy that we have been adopted as sons and can now call God Father. We have been given an inheritance that is imperishable and incorruptible, and it is in this–even while in the midst of trials–that Peter reminded us to rejoice (1 Peter 1:3-6).
Our minds are renewed and our spirits are transformed from apathetic thoughts or misplaced affections to delight in the gift of Jesus.
Encountering Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit will always produce joy.
This is part 2 of a series: Encounters with Jesus: An Advent Devotional Series