This weekend in America we are celebrating Independence Day, a time commemorating the birth of our nation. This got me thinking about joy. Joy is a gift from God, but one that is all too often overlooked. I get it, life is hard, and in the midst of difficult circumstances, joy is elusive.
But here’s the thing: joy is transcendent.
God gives it to us to experience regardless of what’s happening around us or to us or in us.
As followers of Christ, we are called to model our behavior after Jesus’s. But if someone who didn’t know Jesus were to try to guess what Jesus was like based on observing Christians, how do you think they would assess him? Joyful and loving? Sadly, probably not. More likely, they would guess that Jesus was dour and bitter, trying to keep everyone around him from having a good time.
This is tragic, because the Jesus I see in the Bible was brimming with joie de vivre, a great French phrase meaning “joy of life”, which really gets at the exuberant enjoyment of life. His first recorded miracle, for example, was to create top-quality wine from ordinary water to save the day at a wedding feast. He loved hanging out with kids and his buddies. He attended many dinner parties.
That doesn’t strike me as someone who was dour and bitter.
So why is it that followers of Christ have a reputation for looking like we just ate a lemon?
Here’s at least part of the reason: because we overlook and even reject God’s gift of joy.
But Dave, you don’t know what’s happening with my job / family / illness / bank account, you might say. Or what about what’s happening in our country and the world? How can I possibly be joyful in the middle of this mess?
But let’s look at Jesus’s life and what was going on in the world when he walked the earth. He was homeless. His own family mostly did not believe he was who he said he was until after his death and resurrection. He was a rabbi, but most people in his religious community rejected his message, to the point that they had him executed. His best friends abandoned him when he needed them most. His country had ceased to exist as its own entity since it had become just another occupied territory of the brutal government of Rome.
I think it’s a safe guess that none of our lives is as difficult as that.
And yet, despite all of the reasons why he should have been miserable, Jesus’s joie de vivre made people want to be around him.
How could that be?
There are many good answers, but I believe at least one of them is because of where he placed his hope, which was in God alone. What happened one day or the next didn’t rob him of his joy because he was absolutely convinced that God was in control of this world. He knew that waiting on the other side of these struggles was an eternity in paradise with God. And us. And all the good dogs who have ever lived.
This means that his ultimate hope did not hang on his job, his family, his health, or his bank account. It was not dependent on his country or government officials.
So why do we place so much of our hope in these things, and so little in God?
It’s a rhetorical question, and not one meant to make us all feel bad. Instead, I invite all of us to keep it in mind as we go into our weeks. Every time we feel something starting to take away the joy God has given to us, we should catch ourselves and think about where we might be misplacing our hope. Why is that outcome more important to us than the blessings God is giving us now or the ultimate blessing awaiting us at the end of days?
Let’s receive God’s gift of joy with open hands and open arms, with reckless abandon. Celebrate. Be thankful. Laugh at the dad jokes. Dance like Snoopy.