What, Exactly, Is Joy Anyway?

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.’ ” Luke 2:9-11 KJV

Every time I read that passage, I hear Linus in my head.

Of all the “words” we meditate on during Advent, joy is mentioned most often in the birth narratives. Joy and peace are the only “Advent” words found in Matthew and Luke’s account. Zechariah, Elizabeth, in utero John the Baptist, Mary, the Angels & the Shepherds, and the Kings are promised, experience, or proclaim joy. It is a story steeped in joy.

The question is why? Why so much joy? And what….by the way….is joy exactly? Joy comes the words “chara” which means calm delight. What do these characters experience that creates calm delight in their hearts?

What I see, is that their joy is a response to the revelation of a promise fulfilled. A promise from the past, a promise for the present, or a promise for the future. It is a moment where they see with their hearts or minds that the Kingdom of God has come to earth. Joy is a moment of insight given from God.

Joy is a moment of supernatural awareness of deep and divine realities. A vision of something greater than ourselves, a veil is pulled back and we catch a glimpse of another world, of the future, and the reality of that future calms all our fears and worries. It is a revelation of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit - in all their splendour and glory.

C.S. Lewis, who spent much of his life reflecting on joy, writes that joy must have “the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing….it is always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” Does not an encounter with God fill us with delight but also an inconsolable longing?

1st century Israelites knew what it meant to long for a King. They had long desired a King that would rule with justice and righteousness.

For hundreds of years they had been ruled by Kings and Emperors whose hearts were far from God’s. Imagine what it meant for them to know that the Messiah, the universal ruler had been born on earth. The promise of a King was being fulfilled in Mary’s womb, in the sign of a star, and in the proclamation of angels. It was indeed a event of great joy for all people.

I remember a rainy December day when I was at seminary. I was on a crowded bus heading to school. It had been raining for a month. The windows were fogged over blocking out any greenery or life outside. The world looked grey and fuzzy. The dreariness of the outer world reflected my inner world - I felt confused, foggy, and tired from the semester of school. I was homesick and overwhelmed by the papers and exams that stood between me and a flight home. Amidst this desolate state, a little song bubbled up inside my heart, no doubt inspired by the Spirit, “Be near me Lord Jesus/ I ask thee to stay/ close by me forever/ and love me I pray.”

And, in a flash, it was as if the roof of the bus was ripped off, the clouds broke open, and a beam of light from heaven shot right into my heart, dissipated the fog and confusion of my mind and I was filled with relief, hope, and an assurance that Jesus was indeed with me. I felt renewed in my strength and that all I needed was going to be provided. I felt a sudden calm delight in my heart.

As quickly as it had appeared, it disappeared. I found myself on the bus with a roof and the same grey windows. But the experience left its mark. A mark of longing for a moment like that again, a longing for more of God, a pang for Jesus to be near me always in such a manner. It changed me and I can still remember - 11 years later - what that moment felt like.

I believe that what I experienced was joy.

Joy has movement to it. It beckons us forward just as it ushered Mary along on her significant journey, as it pulled Kings from the East, drew shepherd’s in from the hills and then sent them out again into the streets to tell all they met about the new King.

Joy draws each of us towards God. Longing for more of him, moving in obedience to follow him into the future. A future we had a momentary glimpse of. A future where he reigns in peace and might and where he wipes away every tear.

My prayer for each of you, is that you would experience the gift of joy this week. That you would be given a revelation of Jesus that clears your mind, lightens your heart, and reminds you of something far greater than yourself. A joy that fills you with an inconsolable longing, a longing that is satisfied in the cosmic King come to earth. A longing satisfied only in Jesus.