While waiting in line for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I was reflecting on my activities of the past few months and was struck by how many ‘sins’ tie back to an absence of Joy. By letting our ‘Christian Joy’ slip away, we allow pride, envy, judgement of others, etc. to replace it. On Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent that is also called Rejoice Sunday, I heard a sermon about a guy who let a $7 overcharge on a transaction ruin his day. He couldn’t move past being upset and allowed his joy to be taken away for a mere $7. It made me think of the value (or lack of) I sometimes place on my Joy.
Over the past few years I have typically picked a word for the year. In 2017 it was Discipline, in 2018 – Peace, and in 2019 – Mindfulness. This practice of one word for the year comes from the book “One Word” co-written by a friend of mine, Jimmy Page. One word is easy; it can be a rallying cry, a mantra and is way better than resolutions that tend to get shelved by January 12th. My One Word for 2020 will be Rejoice. Rejoice, a significant Christian theme, means to feel or show great joy or delight.
Joy is love turned inward as love carries the connotation of being reliant on something outside of yourself. Helen Keller said, “Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” However, happiness can be circumstantial; it has the same root as the word “happenstance.” Yet, despite how unreliable it is, many of us base our lives on the pursuit of happiness (I know the Constitution guarantees our right to do so). Joy is a decision, a choice – a bold one. Having joy is an enduring sense of well-being.
People who rarely experience personal joy, tend to drain joy away from others. The more accepting we are of ourselves, the more generous we will be with others. We should appreciate the better parts of ourselves. Focus on what we can embrace and celebrate. Be someone that is radiant and joyful (i.e. rejoiceful); someone people want to be around. This kind of energy is contagious. The more it is shared, the more it gets returned. “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, and sometimes your smile is the source of your joy,” a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh.
I talk and write often about the journey versus the destination referencing Robert Hastings’ essay ‘The Journey.’ The joy is the journey; the Station constantly outdistances us. Life will eventually near its end, the Station, and if we take the time to look backwards, will we reflect with joy or regret? Did we rejoice in the unexpected detours, setbacks, and embarrassments that life routinely served us?
A great exercise to feel joy in our lives is to ask ourselves some very simple questions: “What’s right in my life?” “What am I grateful for?” “What are my blessings?” “What’s right about the people in my life?” Do we appreciate the basic elements of life such as heat, electricity and even a roof over our heads? Do we appreciate the best in people? Far too often we default the other way by focusing on what irritates, or frustrates, or upsets us about any given circumstance or person.
Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French idealist philosopher and Jesuit priest, is quoted: “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Joy is essential to the Christian life. According to Scripture, rejoicing is a requirement. It is commanded all over the Bible
It was commanded of God’s first-covenant people, Israel, with literally hundreds of references throughout the Old Testament – especially in the Psalms. To note just three:
– Psalm 32:11: “Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; exult, all you upright of heart.”
– Psalm 97:12: “Rejoice in the LORD, you just, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.”
– Psalm 149:2: “Let Israel be glad in its maker; the people of Zion rejoice in their king;”
Beyond Israel, God commands all nations to rejoice:
– Psalm 67:5: “May the nations be glad and rejoice; for you judge the peoples with fairness, you guide the nations upon the earth.”
– Psalm 96:11: “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound.”
The Gospels give us even more reason:
– Matthew 5:12: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
– Luke 6:23: “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”
– Luke 10:20: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
– Luke’s Chapter 15: The Parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Lost Son all contain ‘Rejoice with me because I have found …’
Paul’s letters drive the point deeper:
– Romans Chapter 12: “Rejoice in hope “and “Rejoice with those who rejoice”
– 2 Corinthians 6:10: “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things.”
– 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brothers, rejoice”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:16 “Rejoice always”
– Philippians 2:18: “In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.”
– Philippians 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.”
– Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”
One reason the Bible is so relentless in insisting on our joy is because of the goodness of God. To paraphrase Eugene Peterson, Joy is a consequence of Christian discipleship; “it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience.” G.K. Chesterton said Joy is “the gigantic secret of the Christian.” In Christ we have access to profound joy. The Christian understands that God knows his name, loves him, and is here with him now. This never changes, and it is what gives us perpetual joy.
In 2020 I will decide to boldly rejoice. I will value my enduring sense of well-being. I will smile.