Joy of the Lord
Updated: Jan 4, 2019
There is a pretty popular children’s song that many sing at church; I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my ______? Another song proclaims, “There is joy in the Lord, there is love in His presence, there is hope in the promise of Him.” Joy can be described as delight or bliss, and these songs attribute joy to the Lord. Joy is probably one of, if not the, most misunderstood aspects of Christianity.
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. 4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
This Season of Advent (what Christians call the Christmas season) is all about waiting for the arrival of the savior, waiting for the one who will be our deliverer. The Israelites were also waiting for deliverance, and the author in Isaiah 61 refers to an anointed one who will deliver them, but in doing so, he uses the first person in describing the one who has been anointed.
When we read this text, we have the advantage of looking through the Christmas lens and seeing Jesus Christ as the anointed one, but Isaiah’s audience didn’t have that luxury. They were living 500 years before the birth of Christ. So, where is the joy in these words written for an exiled people. Ones who have no knowledge of Jesus? Where is the joy in these words for us, who do have knowledge of Jesus?
The joy in this passage is its promise that things will change…liberty for the captives, release for the prisoners, mourners will receive the oil of gladness and the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. We are being told specific details of how life is going to be different because of the anointed one who will bring good news.
There are times in our lives where we are desperate for good news. There are times in our lives where we wonder if things are ever going to be different. Will the pain of grief ever subside? Will the feelings of hurt and rejection ever go away? Will the walls of physical and emotional pain that imprison us ever be torn down? We wander if the promise of the good news from the anointed one is ever going to reach us.
The promise of the good news has reached us. The relief the Israelites sought in their circumstances and the relief we seek in our circumstances may not always be delivered when we think it should or in the way, we think it should, but the true relief found in this good news is that there is joy in the Lord, and we must realize that this is joy and not happiness.
We all-to-often blur the line between joy and happiness. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances. Our circumstances determine whether we’re happy or sad. We can’t control how we feel. Some things make us happy. Some things make us sad. Family reunions, birthdays, and graduations are times of happiness, but if we’re grieving the death of a loved one or dealing with the loss of a job, we’re sad. Circumstances determine happiness or sadness.
But joy is different. Joy is not tied to circumstances. Joy is a way of life. Joy is an attitude. Having joy in the Lord is what enables someone in the midst of tragedy to say, “My heart is breaking with sadness, but God is good, and He is faithful.” It is the joy in our hearts that keeps us moving forward in the face of tragedy, because God has indeed anointed one to comfort all who mourn, to provide the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. We can remain joyful in all situations, whether they are happy or sad, because of the promise of the anointed one.
Misery, or lack of joy, is not a Christian virtue. If God really is the center of one’s life and being, joy is inevitable. If we have no joy, we have missed the heart of the Good News and our bodies as much as our souls will suffer the consequences. Walter Knight said, “Joy is the flag that flies over the castle of our hearts announcing that the king is in residence today.” What flag are you flying?
At a conference at a Presbyterian church in Omaha, people were given helium-filled balloons and told to release them at some point during the service when they felt like expressing the joy in their hearts. Their worship didn’t lend itself to feeling free to say, "Hallelujah,” or “Praise the Lord." All throughout the service balloons were released and ascended to the ceiling, but when it was over, one-third of the balloons remained unreleased. Are you holding on to your balloon? Let your balloon go, and release the joy in your life, for there is joy in the Lord.
Not only does the anointed one promise relief, but he also promises that those who benefit from the relief will find strength…they will be called oaks of righteousness, but here again, the strength that is being spoken about is based upon a relief of heart. The relief and release that is being spoken about comes from the heart. It comes from being able to fly the flag of joyfulness. It comes from being able to release the balloon of joyfulness. It comes from discovering that joy is not connected to the happiness or sadness of one’s circumstances, but to a relationship with the Lord.
The presence of the anointed one brings joy, which provides strength for the future, and it is that future that the anointed one is pointing towards.
He says that these oaks of righteousness will be responsible for repairing the ruins and devastation of past generations. We are the oaks of righteousness. We have the benefit of knowing the anointed one, and we are the recipients of His joy and responsible for repairing the ruins and devastation.
This Season of Advent becomes so hurried because of the way Christmas has been built-up. We need to slow down this time of year. We need to count our blessings. We need to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. We need to make the effort to spend time with our families. Too often we strive to cultivate the “perfect” Christmas, instead of enjoying the experience of Christmas.
As we celebrate and enjoy the experience of Christmas, we can’t lose sight of our responsibility. When we proclaim Christ as the anointed one, we acknowledge that we are the beneficiaries of the relief, and thus, we have the responsibility to rebuild and repair.
The two most important seasons in the Christian year are Advent and Easter. I find it interesting and somewhat disheartening that society has cultivated these Christian celebrations into commercial holidays. Part of our responsibility in rebuilding and repairing is to insure the sanctity and holiness of the Christmas and Easter seasons. The anointed one has brought about a relief. His being born in a manger instead of a palace was the first indication that things would be different. We are the beneficiaries of His relief. We are the oaks of righteousness. We have a responsibility to repair and rebuild.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years. At one point in his life, Justice Holmes explained his choice of a career by saying: "I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers."
I’d like to substitute clergy for Christian. There are many people out there who might think to themselves, “I might have joined the church, I might have become a believer, if certain Christians I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.” We have a responsibility to rebuild and repair. We have a responsibility to fly the flag of joyfulness. We have a responsibility to release the balloon of joyfulness.
There is joy in the Lord.