Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. (Psalm 98, verse 4) The prophet Isaiah declares that the Messiah will come to bring “glad tidings to the poor, and “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” St Paul’s words to the Thessalonians begin “Rejoice greatly”. It is interesting that these readings all have their basis in the Hebrew Language which has more words for joy and rejoicing than any other language. Hebrew religious ritual proclaims God as the source of joy, and worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration. We are told that the good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy of life.
Pure joy is joy in God as both its source and object, like a circle. God gives joy to us and we return it back to God. We believe that it is God’s will for us to be joyful and to give thanks to God in all circumstances. How are we doing ?
There is a story told about a man from Louisville, Kentucky, who had to travel to St. Louis on business. This was some years ago when most Christians kept Sunday as a very special day. “Keeping the sabbath” meant not riding on trains on Sunday. Business finished Saturday, meaning a stayover until Monday. On Sunday morning he left his hotel looking for a place to worship. The streets were largely empty but finally he found a policeman and asked for directions to the nearest Protestant Church. He thanked the policeman for the information and then said: ”why have you recommended that particular church? There must be several churches nearby?” The policeman smiled and replied: “I’m not a church man myself, but the people who come out of that church are the happiest looking church-people in St. Louis. I thought that would be the kind of church you would like to attend.”
One thing many people on their Christian journey have forgotten, is that as well as reaching out to love our neighbour as ourselves, we also have a duty to be joyful. On this third Sunday in Advent we remember that we have this responsibility and give thanks to God for the gift of joy.
The renowned theologian and philosopher Teilhard de Chardin once said:
“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” What helpful words!
Periodically we all face the question: “is this the right thing for me to do? Is this God’s will for me at this time?” A very important and helpful response comes from St. Paul in our scripture reading this morning. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
The mother of the brilliant German poet and author Goethe once wrote these simple but meaningful lines:
“I rejoice in my life because the lamp still glows;
I seek no thorny ways;
I love the small pleasures of life,
If the doors are too low, I bend.
If I can remove a stone from the path, I do so;
If it is too heavy, I go around it.
I find something in every day that pleases me.
The cornerstone, my belief in God,
makes my heart glad and my face shining.”
According to this sensitive and thoughtful Christian elder, Christian joy comes from the simple and beautiful pleasures in life. It comes from loving and being loved. It comes from walking daily with God. It comes from believing that God has a plan for our life, and that the path on which God leads us, is joyful.
New Testament scholar William Barclay commented about the wedding at Cana of Galilee with these words:
“ Jesus was perfectly at home at a wedding feast. He was no severe, austere killjoy. He loved to share in the happy rejoicing of a wedding feast. There are certain religious people who shed gloom wherever they go; people who are suspicious of all joy and happiness. ….They descend gloom wherever they go. …. Jesus never counted it a crime to be happy. Why should his followers do so?”
Why indeed? What is God’s will for your life and mine? To be joyful always, to pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all circumstances. Amen.