Monday, November 14, 2005

The Call of the Gospel: Joy

After hearing much about the demands of the Gospel and its disciplines and uncompromising exhortations (from me, anyway), you may now wish to hear about the joy that the Gospel communicates and promises. For joy is very much a part of the call of the Gospel. Words for joy and rejoicing occur nearly 500 times in the Bible, so who says it’s all struggle and penance and hardship?

The good news of our salvation begins with an invitation to rejoice. That is how the Archangel Gabriel greeted Mary with the news of the Incarnation. (Usually it is translated, “Hail!” but the Greek khaire literally means “Rejoice!”) At the birth of Jesus, another angel said to the shepherds: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (Luke 2:10).

Notice that the angel begins his announcement of joy by dispelling fear. This happens many times in the Scriptures. Fear is an impediment to joy. Often God tries to give his people some glad tidings, but his very messenger terrifies them with even a mere reflection of divine glory. But if we were a little more attuned to his presence and willingness to bless us, we would more likely respond with joy than with fear—though we’ll never be able to stand before Him without a deep awe and wonder at his divine splendor, and we should rejoice in that, too!

Joy is something that is promised, something that awaits us in the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is also something that Christians ought to experience now. That joy comes to us from the Holy Spirit. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and when Jesus rejoiced it was in the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21). At that time He rejoiced in the Father’s love and wisdom for opening the minds and hearts of the “little ones” to the truth of the Gospel.

But the joy to which the Gospel calls us is not mere revelry or superficial fun. Jesus would not have become man to give us something cheap or ephemeral. He wants to give us the very joy of God. It is also true that the Cross is never far from the Christian, so we have to learn how to find a deep and abiding joy even when under the shadow of the Cross. In a sense, the Cross reveals the most profound joy as it teaches us how to send our roots deeper into the soil of faith and hope, to find the nourishing underground stream of life-giving grace, which strengthens and revitalizes us, lightening our hearts and turning them heavenward. Then we produce the spiritual fruit of joy—a joy that can weather the storms and still keep smiling, a joy that perseveres patiently and prayerfully while the fullness of divine joy is being prepared for us in the Father’s house.

Why did Jesus reveal his Father to us, and all the truths and mysteries and counsels of the Gospel? Of course, it was for our salvation, but is there any other reason? “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). The most profound joy we can experience in this life is Jesus’ joy in us—and He gave that as the very reason for the things He has revealed through the Scriptures. His joy in us! That is what makes our joy full. People who seek happiness elsewhere, especially in forbidden pursuits, will only find a counterfeit, a temporary and ultimately ineffective palliative for the pain and loneliness of this life. But the Lord offers so much more.

So pray for joy. We pray for so many needs, for ourselves and others, but perhaps we need a capacity for joy before we can appreciate God’s other gifts. No one can avoid passing through the “valley of tears” while still on this side of Paradise, but the Holy Spirit is waiting to give birth to joy in you and to carry you to that place, that time, when “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). So do not fear, for the Gospel is glad tidings of joy to come, and of joy even in the present moment. We may not always feel “happy,” but there can be a place in our hearts that is always rejoicing.