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An Invitation to Joy

Written by Erika Castiglione

I’m curious about joy. This is not because I am a naturally joyful person, in fact, there have been seasons of my life when commands like “always be joyful” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) felt impossible at best, a cruel taunt at worst. Yet, commands to rejoice, and promises of fullness of joy (John 15:11), abound throughout scripture. I haven’t always been able to reconcile the call to joy and the brokenness of the world, but things have become clearer as I have grown to understand more about the character of God.

Have you ever thought of God as joyful? Like I mentioned, it hasn’t always been the first word to come to mind for me, but the Bible is clear, the triune God--Father, Son, and Spirit--experiences joyful fellowship, and Jesus’ prays that his followers (including us) would share in that glorious joy (John 17). What good news that we don’t have to conjure up joy out of our own strength, but our God who is supremely joyful, invites us to join Him (Matthew 25:33). Furthermore, God not only takes joy in Himself, but He takes joy in us. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus says that when the Shepherd finds the one who has wandered, he joyfully carries it home on his shoulders and then he calls his friends and neighbors and asks them to rejoice with him (Luke 15:4-7). In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells the faithful stewards to “enter into the joy of the master” (Matthew 25:23). It is an invitation to celebrate with the God who is already celebrating. 

So, what does it look like to serve and reflect our joyful God? To begin with, I think it means enjoying the gifts God has so generously scattered throughout all of creation from the beauty of the moon and the stars, to the release that comes from deep belly laughter with a dear friend, or the happiness that comes from both being the bearer and receiver of small acts of kindness. It has often been pointed out that Biblical joy is more than mere happiness, which is true, but it often will and should include delight, fun, and maybe even “good vibes”. Nehemiah 8 tells the story of Ezra the priest reading and explaining the Book of the Law to the Israelite exiles who had recently returned to their homeland. As they listened, they wept over the weight of the law and their many sins, but Ezra told them, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared…don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Does this mean we should just party all the time because we serve a partying God? No, the Bible is also clear that there is a time for weeping (Ecclesiastes 3:4, Romans 12:15, Galatians 6:2). Graciously built into our weeks, years, and seasons of life are times of fasting and times of feasting. We miss out on experiencing the fullness of God and fellowship with one another if we ignore either. We speak of advent as the “already, not yet” and this is so clearly displayed in the practice of joy. I pray we would not be so focused on the “already” that we settle for the lesser joys of this present age, callous to the brokenness around us, closing our hearts to those trapped in darkness, ignoring its hold on us. And I pray we will not be so focused on our longing for the “not yet” that we miss the joy of the “already”. Instead, even as we wait for the fullness of joy to come, let us accept our invitation to enter the courts of the Lord with singing (Psalm 100), joining the thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly (Hebrews 12:22), praising our joyful king. 

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