Scripture: Luke 1:39-45
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Joy is a gift of God…it is the emotion (if we can even call it that) we experience at the hands of God which gives us a glimpse of heaven, a glimpse of something other-worldly, a glimpse, perhaps, of the face of God. Joy is that emotion of wholeness of desire for something greater which we experience in the strangest of places. It often interrupts at the most peculiar of moments.
Joy is not happiness: it is not a positive, fleeting emotion that causes casual smiles or shallow delight. Joy is not pleasure: it is never selfish, and does not fulfill a momentary inclination. Joy is something entirely different, given at the hand of God alone.
C.S. Lewis, wrote a book entitled, Surprised by Joy, based on the title of Wordsworth’s poem. It is the story of his journey through a grief-filled childhood and an embittered adulthood, to the feet of Christ. In the book, Lewis writes that joy is, “an unsatisfied desired which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” He goes further to say that joy has only one thing in common with happiness or pleasure and that is “that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.” “But then,” he says, “joy is never in our power, but pleasure [and happiness] often are.” Lewis likens joy to what Milton describes as the “enormous bliss of Eden,” the wholeness and fullness of humankind walking with God before the fall.
And that is exactly what we are see when Elizabeth encounters Mary in Luke 1—joy at the hand of God…a glimpse of something greater than us, Jesus Christ Himself, made known to John, Elizabeth, and Mary. It is not the type of shallow happiness that warrants a big party, it is a glimpse of something greater at a really uncomfortable point in life.
Luke tells us earlier in the chapter that Elizabeth has come through decades of ridicule at her state in life of being barren. Her husband has been mute through the whole pregnancy after seeing a vision of the Lord. And Elizabeth is going to give birth to a son in her old age, which at that time especially, would have been extremely difficult on her body. And it is in that moment that God provides her with the gift of joy, her own baby leaping in her womb in the presence of the Lord Himself.
Have you experienced real joy before? One of those moments of peace, grace, beauty, and love where you understand the inexpressible love of the Father? In those moments, all life seems suspended around you: the trees stop swaying, the crickets stop chirping, the birds stop swooping, and all you can see, hear, or know is perfect joy. It is one of those moments where there is no sense of time. But as soon as you recognize the beauty of it, you are drawn right out of it, back to reality. The moment flits away like the swallow, vanishes out of view.
These moments are few indeed! In a day and age where busyness is next to godliness, we rarely have the presence of mind to just be without notifications dinging away. Joy is also an extremely vulnerable emotion. In order to experience it, you have to lean into the depth of feeling that goes along with it. This means allowing yourself to feel the highs and the lows. You cannot feel joy if you are in the habit of anaesthetizing feelings (through busyness, noise, or the harder stuff).
Leaning in to joy means cleansing your surroundings of the “what’s next?” and sitting in the now. When Jesus rebuked Martha for being busy (Luke 10:38-42), it wasn’t because he didn’t appreciate her party planning and hospitality. He was presenting her with an opportunity for joy, to just be in his presence.
Moments of joy are few and far between, vaporizing into thin air if we don’t capture them, hold on to them. The author of Ecclesiastes says, “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Though one may interpret this as Plath-like dread, it may also be interpreted as beauty, richness, and grace. God gives us these little glimpses of the heavenly, but they are gone in but a moment. Hold on to them, remember them, relish them.
None of us know what tomorrow holds—perhaps joy, perhaps heartache. So we must savour the present. We read the author of Ecclesiastes saying, “eat, drink, and be merry,” into our post-modern, consumerist culture. But I have a sense that a better understanding might be, “Taste, savour, enjoy.”
I find great hope in Luke 1 and in the words of Lewis because I am reminded that joy is not for the faint-hearted. We often forget that Mary, the mother of Jesus, could have received the death penalty at that time for being pregnant out of wedlock. Her teenage life was on the brink of disaster. And that was when God chose to show up for her. That was the moment she experienced joy, alongside her elderly cousin Elizabeth.
Joy is often found in those moments where we have heavy hearts, in those moments when our depth of emotion has pushed us to the very feet of Christ to cry out His Holy name. It is in those moments that we may glimpse the presence of God, who is the fullness of joy.
Challenge: Joy is found in those moments where everything seems suspended and you are actually living in to the moment, you forget time, and are just present. It is hard to experience joy in the midst of chaos and noise. Turn off cell phones, televisions, social media, computers, etc, for 24 hours. You don’t have to go full Amish, but you can adapt as necessary for your family. During this time, spend time in conversation with family, play games, tell stories, read scripture, prepare meals slowly together, sing songs, bake cookies, pray, eat around the table…and laugh! At the end of 24 hours, answer some of these questions together: What was it like to give up technology for a day? What things did you notice without the distraction? What was the best part of the day?