This week, we have been talking about the basis of our Christian joy. Today I want to continue this theme by looking at the Source and characteristic of our joy. Joy makes us feel good and uplifted. It is a feeling called forth by well-being, success, or good fortune, among other things. Moreover, Scripture reminds us that joy comes from God, not us (see, e.g., Ecclesiastes 2:26; Psalm 4:7). This is true because only in God is there life and permanence. For example, money and material wealth can produce a sense of well being in us but neither can give us life or raise us from the dead. When we die, money and material things will become irrelevant to us. Likewise with anything else in this world that might bring a false sense of joy.
But did you notice a curious biblical motif regarding joy? Joy often comes after sorrow. It seems that joy is made all the sweeter by sorrow because the latter heightens the sense of the former after it passes. We can see this reflected in each of today’s texts. In the OT reading, the Lord promises Israel a Messiah who will ultimately deliver her from exile and allow Israel to be the people God chose them to be (a holy people who will be a blessing to others). In the passage from Revelation, John the Evangelist weeps because no one can open the scroll, but he is told not to weep because Jesus can (and later does to the joy of his people). In the parable from today’s Gospel the virgins wait and wait for the bridegroom to return from his journey. They were sorrowful that he was away, but joyful upon his return, even when he returned at an unexpected hour.
We see this sorrow-to-joy motif reflected elsewhere in the NT. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the father and son’s sorrow are turned to joy upon the latter’s return (although the older brother’s reaction did not reflect this; do you know why?). In the farewell discourse in John 14-17, Jesus tells his disciples that their sorrow will be turned to joy. In my own experience, I know the joy I felt when I was ordained as a priest in CANA was made all the sweeter after I had been treated so badly by the Episcopal Church. I am not sure why all of this must be so; I only know it is. Perhaps diminishing returns has something to do with it. The party cannot go on forever lest we lose all interest in it. Whatever the reason, we can trust that this God of ours has our best interests at heart. After all, he was willing to take on our flesh and suffer and die for us so that we could live with him forever. No one knows the creatures better than the Creator.
As you examine your life with all of its hurts and sorrows, the biblical notion of joy really is the antidote for what ails you. Sorrows will come, but they will only last for a season for those who love the Lord. Joy will follow; and because it is from God, it will ultimately last forever.
Tomorrow: Joy in service.