The pink candle on the third Sunday marks the transition from the more Lenten feel of preparing for Jesus’ Second Coming, to the joy-filled celebration of Jesus’ first coming.
Depth and Power of Joy
Think of the times your heart has been stirred by joy—that rush of feeling when something so very good happens, or when you see someone you have been missing, or when you feel especially thankful and happy. It is a good place to start, since words like “joy” are hard to explain to someone who has never recognized experiencing it.
Still, joy goes deeper, and shows up in unexpected places in the scriptures. For example, think about where Jesus drew his courage and will from as he faced the cross. Surprisingly, in those moments, it was not love, or faithfulness, or even that settled peace that surpasses understanding. Instead it was
for the sake of the joy that was set before him [that Jesus] endured the cross, disregarding its shame,Hebrews 12:2 (NRSV)
In the same way, as you and I share in Jesus’ life, we discover our source of strength and wherewithal, the buoying of our faith, the sustaining of our spirit, comes through the joy set before us, just as these apostles experienced and passed on to us,
But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.The Apostle Peter, 1 Peter 4:13 (NRSV)
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.Jesus’ brother James, leader of the Jerusalem Church, James 1:2-4 (NRSV)
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.The Apostle Paul, Colossians 1:11-12 (NRSV)
. . . [They] stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.Paul’s partner Luke, Acts 13:50-52
In fact, these are only four examples of how joy sustained believers in the first century church, joy that came with the indwelling and infilling Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul explained that joy is the fruit of the Spirit’s life within every believer, and it is amazing to me that available within me, because of Jesus’ love for me, and because of the Spirit of Christ within me, there is first of all love, but the very next thing is joy. And after that, the peace Jesus promised to each of us.
Joy is so important, it shows up at least sixty times throughout the Christian Testament.
- The magi were overwhelmed with joy when they saw the Christ star had stopped over an otherwise unassuming house in Bethlehem.
- Jesus often spoke of those who would receive His word of truth with joy, of the person who was overjoyed to find a great treasure hidden in a field.
- The crowning reward for the good and faithful servant is to enter into the joy of their master.
- Even in heaven, Jesus said the angels experience joy over every person who repents.
And there is a deep truth about joy that Jesus conveyed to his followers, and to us.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.Jesus to His followers and to us, John 15:9-11 (NRSV)
It seems love, joy, and peace are very closely connected, and the experience of these are made complete when shared together, in community, the community of God-Three-In-One and the community of us together.
Even as it was joy that empowered Jesus to complete His commitment of salvation by enduring the cross, so also joy empowers every believer.
Intent on Joy
I once read a book—not written from a Christian perspective, per se—that has continued to have a great impact on my life: “How We Choose to be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People—Their Secrets and Their Stories.”
Even just the title is intriguing, is it not?
It is based on the research of Rick Foster and Greg Hicks, and their basic premise, that genuinely happy people choose joy rather than stumble upon it, or wait for joy to find them, begins with:
Intention, the active desire and commitment to be happy, and the decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviors that lead to happiness over unhappiness.
This so reminds me of the Beatitudes, Matthew’s transcript of Jesus’ teaching on joy. Look at all the unusual ways Jesus taught you and me to intentionally commit to what brings true joy. The meaning of “blessed,” according to Merriam-Webster, is “enjoying the bliss of heaven.”
“Enjoying the bliss of heaven are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Enjoying the bliss of heaven are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Enjoying the bliss of heaven are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Enjoying the bliss of heaven are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Enjoying the bliss of heaven are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Enjoying the bliss of heaven are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Enjoying the bliss of heaven are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Enjoying the bliss of heaven are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Enjoying the bliss of heaven are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”Jesus teaching the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12 (NRSV)