Two weeks ago, we lit the Joy Candle and I’ve been sitting on this post and thinking about the nature of joy in a fallen world.
As you may know, many are in the habit of reflecting on that week’s theme. For most of us the starting point question is “What does it mean to live in a world where the Candle of Joy is lit?”
Honestly, it’s the hardest theme to think about. Because the instant you encounter a legitimate problem, acknowledge a frustration or find yourself in a difficult moment our reaction is to simply, say, “Joy?? What joy??”
Further even if we could stop our circumstances from sucking the “joy” out of our lives, what about those going through tragedy? Not just in Newtown, what about the countless people who find themselves in a difficult circumstances? The parents who have to spend Christmas day at a children’s hospital praying for a miracle, or the father of four who after a year and a half of unemployment lost his job again, or those throughout our cities and throughout our world who are starving, hurting and dying? In the context of surivial, joy starts to feel like a luxury for those who have it all.
So it seems to me that it all depends on how we understand joy. Generally when we think of joy, we think of a type of happiness or a sense of glee. Some have said it’s way of attaching happiness to a more blissful state though I am not really sure what that means.
Still, it feels like it has some distinctions from the idea of happiness. For me as a Christian, I’ve often seen joy as more of a religious word. I’m not real crazy about the idea of having religious words and non-religious ones but if I’m being honest, when I think of joy, I think of something sacred. One of my earliest understandings of the term joy is from that line in the Old Testament “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Neh. 8:10).
There’s an entire context there that I can’t get into but the short summary is it’s not a happy scene. Some of the Israelites are returning back from their exile in Babylon and upon returning back to their land, they’ve discovered that all of their neighborhoods and homes have been destroyed. Rebuilding is their only option but not only will that be difficult but they will also be vulnerable to attack. Thus, the joy of the Lord was their strength.
In light of that, when I think of joy, I think more of a confidence in God. It feels hopeful, rooted in trust but it’s also a sense of gratitude. I feel “joyful” when Susan and I are enjoying the brighter moments of parenthood but I know I’ve also experienced a sense of joyfulness in tough times too, even in our dark season years ago.
The candle of joy is lit not to remind us to be happy – that feels trite. Instead it serves to announce that because of the coming of Jesus, we can find joy in this life, even in the most difficult of circumstances, … in essence, we can can be confident in the work and the character of God.