Back in the day, when Abstract separated Bible studies by ages and had them on different nights, Maggie taught the young adult Bible study. I specifically remember one night when we read a scripture with the word “rejoice” in it a lot, and I remember how Maggie’s face lit up at the mention of the word.
This didn’t surprise me for two reasons. First, you can’t say “rejoice” without also saying “joy” because the sound of the latter is right in the center of the former. Second, to rejoice is a direct consequence of joy. And if you’ve met Maggie even once, you know she has an abundance of joy.
How do we know it’s joy and not just happiness? Happiness is far more circumstantial than joy, and I have seen Maggie stressed out and frustrated while still being optimistic and cheerful.
Maggie has a deep well of joy, and it is evident from just being in the same room as her. I’m envious of that.
I’m probably in the very middle between melancholy and joyous. On an average day, I’ll listen to a sad song just as soon as I’ll listen to a happy song. I’m just as cynical as I am optimistic; it just depends on the subject, how my day’s going, or the position of Jupiter as to which one you get. (But seriously, there’s no real rhyme or reason for which mindset I approach things with, and for that, I’m sorry. Must make interacting with me a real pain sometimes.)
Some people just aren’t as predisposed to joy as others, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with not being a naturally positive person.
Of all the themes of Advent, joy is the least prevalent one in the Christmas story as I see it.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand how the existence of Jesus is joyful for people at the time and for us now. I understand the joy of Jesus well. It’s difficult for me to see the joy in the Christmas story itself. It’s easy for me to see hope, peace, and love at work through or because of Mary and Joseph’s uncertainty, faith, fear, and courage, but it is a bit more difficult for me to see joy.
There is, however, one point in the story where joy is evident and clear, more so than the other three Advent themes. It’s before Mary and Joseph knock on the innkeeper’s door. Before Caesar Augustus even called for the census. Oddly enough, it’s after the angels talk of joy and rejoicing.
Gabriel told Mary of her impending pregnancy and her cousin Elizabeth’s existing pregnancy. “A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. ‘God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said'” (Luke 1:39-45, NLT).
A fetus (John the Baptist as a fetus, specifically) was so overcome with joy at simply hearing Mary talk that he rejoiced by jumping.
That’s the effect Jesus has on people. That’s the amount of joy He offers.
John’s jump is a little taste of what the angels talked about when they said Jesus would bring the world joy and that they would rejoice.
I mentioned earlier that happiness is more circumstantial than joy is, but that’s not to say that circumstances can’t whittle away at our joy. As the old adage goes, “When it rains, it pours.” So perhaps you find yourself in the middle of a rain storm. Maybe you see all these Christmas decorations or hear all these Christmas songs that proclaim joy, but you just aren’t there.
This is going to sound silly, but look at what you’re focusing on. Really look at it and be honest about it. I know it’s a problem. Is it really that big or terrifying? Some problems are and some aren’t. How solvable is it? How draining is it? How much are you contributing to the problem just by holding on to it?
Now look at baby Jesus, and I mean really look at Him. Who He was before this — a part of the Trinity who’s always existed. Who He is — an innocent newborn, made of blood and flesh like you and me. Who He becomes — a heart healer, a chain breaker, a best friend, a King, a perfect sacrifice, a loving Savior.
Isn’t that a hopeful picture? That this baby is but the middle part of a powerful, loving existence. And that gives a weird sense of peace, right? Like everything is by some miracle going to be even better than okay.
There. There’s the joy. A result of hope and peace. Not always easy to have, but more difficult to lose because when you have it, it seeps into you. It runs deep. It can wane and even be depleted entirely, but it’s not easily done because while it’s easy to lose hope or peace, it’s hard and devastating to lose both at once.
I hope you find the joy you’re looking for. I know there’s no better place to search than Jesus. His joy is always there for you, even if your joy is gone. It is constant and powerful, just like Him.
By Carrie Prevette
P.S.- If you’re interested in listening to Maggie talk about joy, which is far better than reading what I have to say about it here, you can follow this link to listen to her sermon: http://www.abstractchurch.org/sermons/.