There is serious strength in joy. And if you think about it, you’ve seen it before. When my three-year-old son is overjoyed at circumstances and fully engaged in the moment, he is unstoppable. He bounces around with a wild abandon, giggles with a reckless wonder at life, and is open to receiving love and affection—usually in the form of tickles and wrestling.
But what a shift when Buddy is disconsolate. When he is wallowing in the toddler valley of shadows, he cannot do anything. And, as parents know, the line between abundant joy and arid desolation is razor thin. This dance along the line of wide-eyed wonder and chest-beating despair brings many gray hairs to the heads of parents—but I digress.
Joy leads to strength. In Nehemiah 8, Nehemiah tells the Israelites to enjoy the sweetness of the things around them as they celebrate what God has done for them. They are not to grieve for all the terror and sadness of what went before: exile, death, devastation. Rather Nehemiah says, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” And this joy is of two kinds.
- We have Joy in something we already have.
For many of us, Christmas is a wonderful reminder of all of the gifts we already have. Family, stability, support, and vocation. We can rejoice in these things and feel the well of strength rising within us. For many of the Clinic’s clients, many of these blessings may be in jeopardy or simply absent. For isolated ex-offenders, beleaguered immigrants, domestic violence survivors, and homeless teens, it is difficult to even conceptualize joy. But, many do. Many focus on those things that they do have: family, children, their relationship with Jesus, whatever modicum of stability they do have. They hold on to these things and it gives them strength to carry on.
- We have Joy in what we will have in the future.
C.S. Lewis said wrote that “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’” Looking forward to what awaits brings us great joy. Think about children anticipating the (albeit hyper-consumeristic) joy of Christmas morning, or the joy you feel when thinking about an upcoming vacation, or the wonderful longing you experience when you see a good movie or read a delightful book.
Joy is found in anticipation. And during the Christmas season, we anticipate the birth of Jesus, who came to embody the love and justice of God through sacrifice, through service, through teaching, and through his death and resurrection. And the promise for Christians is that we will see Jesus—and we will ultimately be like him.
May you, strengthened by the joy found in the gifts you already have and the joy that is to come, be an agent of joy for others who are marginalized and down-trodden. May your Christmas season be filled with the delight, sweetness, and power of joy-fulfilled and joy-anticipated.
Until Justice and Peace embrace,