Advent Reflections: Joy 3

Daily Office texts: Zechariah 3:1-10; Revelation 4:1-8; Matthew 24:45-51.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

—Zechariah 3:1-4 (TNIV)

This week we have been talking about Christian joy. On Monday we talked about the joy that comes from what God has already done for us in Jesus. Yesterday we talked about the future basis of our joy, the joy we derive from what God will do when he returns again to complete the redemptive work he started. Did you notice that at an even more fundamental level, Christian joy is based first and foremost on knowledge and trust, the kind of knowledge and trust that comes from a deep and intimate relationship with someone else? You cannot manufacture joy or turn it on and off like a light bulb. That kind of “joy” would be false and of no help at all. Joy, real joy, comes from a knowledge and trust that something or someone is trustworthy and true and you do not develop that kind of knowledge in a superficial relationship. As with anything else in life, the only way you are going to find out if something is true is to take the plunge and discover it for yourself.

Consider today’s excerpt from Zechariah. In vivid prophetic language, God speaks through his prophet to his broken and hurting people in exile. At its root, our exile from God is caused by human sin and here we see God promising to end our exile by taking away our sin. The end of our exile will not last for a span of years but forever, and God has promised to do this for us because he knows we cannot do it by ourselves. He wants our exile to end because he created us to have a relationship with him, the kind that is appropriate for a Creator and his creatures. For those who knew God in Zechariah’s day, this prophetic message would have given them great joy, even as they were living in exile, precisely because they knew God, and in the course of their relationship with him, had found him to be trustworthy and true. Otherwise, there would be no real basis for joy in the above passage. Did you find the joy in reading it, in knowing that God has taken away your sin?

Or consider the following prayer by Dr. Johnson, that great 18th century literary figure:

And, O Lord, grant unto me that am now about to return to the common comforts and business of the world, such moderation in all enjoyments, such diligence in honest labour, and such purity of mind that amidst the changes, miseries, or pleasures of life I may keep my mind fixed upon thee, and improve every day in grace till I shall be received into thy kingdom of eternal happiness.

—From Doctor Johnson’s Prayers

Here we see the kind of intimate knowledge that is capable of producing joy. There is a humility to this prayer, along with a deep abiding trust in God. You cannot develop this kind of trust and humility standing on the sidelines looking for God. You have to enter the playing field and get yourself muddy. As a self-check, what do you think of this prayer? What kinds of thoughts and feelings, if any, does it evoke for you? Do you see how it can reflect the joy in God that Dr. Johnson surely must have felt? How you answer these questions will give you keen insight into the state of your relationship with the Living God, and what basis, if any, you have for real joy.

Christian joy allows us to walk in the midst of our desolation and exile. Each one of us has our own hurts, failings, missed opportunities, weaknesses, and struggles with which we must deal. Christians are not immune to human infirmity nor do we claim any special privilege or status in that regard. Christians who have joy, however, have found the secret. We realize that God is greater than the brokenness of our lives and this world. We realize he has done something about all that can go wrong with our hearts and our lives, and that we are redeemed people despite our failures and desolation.

What is desolate in your life and how are you dealing with it? Do you have the joy that each one of us craves? Any joy that is not based ultimately on Christ will fail us at one point or another. Real Christian joy never does because it is based on Him who is eternal and life-giving. I pray that you may come to know Christ’s joy if you do not know it already. Once you have it, you will never want to let it go.

Prayer: Through him he has called us out of darkness into the light, out of ignorance into the knowledge of his glory, so that we might hope, Lord, in your name, for it is the foundation of all creation.

—Clement of Rome (ca. late 1st century)