Joy is that deep artesian source of life from which we draw our energy to rejoice in God in all circumstances, to sing and dance in hope, and to enjoy the goodness of God’s creation in each other and our surroundings. Joy is artesian in the sense that it is below the surface of things, it is deep within the nature of God and God’s creation, and joy like water gives life. (RCL Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; and Luke 3:7-18.)
“Tis the season to be jolly” says one of the carols that play in the background at this time of year. Well I am not sure that many of us feel very jolly or superficially happy this Christmas – but I do feel joy rising up in me. I have nothing against jolliness and happiness and indeed there have been and are sure to be some happy moments – wonderful food, drink, stories, songs, reminiscing. But too many dear ones are struggling with health issues, and too much of the world is at war or in poverty, for me to feel overly happy. But such concerns have always been part of the life of faith and yet we are being invited to draw with joy from the wells of salvation and to sing and dance for joy and to rejoice always. This makes joy deeper, more powerful and more lasting than passing jolliness or the happiness we pursue – no matter how pleasant to be occasionally happy.
Julian of Norwich said: “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.” Inspired by this and based on the readings I would like to suggest three things about making joy a focus of our lives and part of our preparation for the advent of our God.
Firstly, that like hope, joy is to be experienced in our anticipation of God’s will being enacted on earth as it is in heaven. We experience joy in the anticipation and in every big and little breakthrough of God’s values and love in our world – in acts of mercy and righteousness, of courage and compassion. Although the language of John the Baptist is shocking I think we are invited to awaken to justice as part of how we are prepare for the coming of the kingdom. Just occasionally we might experience joy watching the evening news as we see some individual or community demonstrate the spirit of God in their kindness or creativity or courage. These moments are to be recognised for what they are – the coming of the kingdom.
And this is why it is not only a duty but a joy to give to charities at this time of year. Every time we contribute to a local food hamper, or health care and education in a developing nation, or environmental protection, we are helping build the kingdom and have reason to feel joyful and to pray that those about to receive may also know joy. It is why it not only a duty but a joy to act righteously – in the examples that John the Baptiser named: to share whatever we have that is more than our own need, to find ethical work, and to only charge what is fair for our labor.
Joy is also to be found by the habit of rejoicing – of giving thanks for what is good and beautiful in our lives. Not out of naive denial of the struggle and suffering in our world but in gratitude for all the beauty that there is and might be. Rejoicing, giving thanks, is a good way to start our morning prayers. Rejoicing in the existence and good fortune of our families and friends in Christmas cards, emails and social gatherings is another way. Rejoicing in the good-news stories in the local paper and newsfeed – when we see one of our own acknowledged for poetry or golf or still dancing in their nineties – all reasons for rejoicing. Rejoicing when someone we have been praying for in a difficult situation is well again or delivered from some trouble. The amount of rejoicing we do is partly to do with the amount of good fortune in our lives at any given point but it is also about spiritual discipline and propensity. Some people will find something to complain about no matter what is happening and others will find something to be grateful for no matter what else is happening. Rejoicing is a habit it is never too late or too early to get into.
And thirdly, very simply, we are invited to enjoy life. To take pleasure in good food, good company, possibly even good drink, good work. The simple and everyday tasks of life should be enjoyed. As should the more obvious pleasures of singing, dancing, creativity, loving, playing, celebrating – including worshipping. And enjoying what is already in our lives helps us to become people whose habit is rejoicing. And seeking out what we enjoy but do not yet have in our lives can contribute to our sense of purpose and direction in life.
Enjoyment might range from the subtle satisfaction of a good days work resulting in jars of jam lined up gleaming along the kitchen sill, or a newly turned veggie patch, or an article published. When we can find enjoyment in what we were going to do anyway we are surely living life as it was meant for us. And living a life where we find enjoyment in most of what we do helps us to attend to the less enjoyable aspects because we have an overall sense of life’s goodness.
The value of enjoyment in the good life is part of why we give sports equipment to children in overseas communities as well as school supplies and vegetable gardens, and why we put Christmas toys in the local hampers as well as food – because it is right and proper that all God’s children should have enjoyment in their life as well as the basics of survival.
And so with hope, peace and joy we make our selves ready to receive the good-news of the arrival of God among us.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ and open our hearts to receive and share joy.