The Advent of Joy

Choose Joy!
It makes for a great coffee mug slogan. Who doesn’t need that kind of encouragement with a side of cream and sugar? People even mean well when they riff some version of it to those experiencing hard times. You can hear it now, can’t you?

“I know things are hard now, but you just have to choose joy.”

I’d give people partial credit for the sentiment since it’s mostly true. After all, the apostle Paul commands believers to rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5.16), with always being the operative word.

How we reconcile that command and the oft-grayness of real life is what causes the rub. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not suggesting Paul was misguided. But would he have looked into the eyes of someone who had lost a child or been betrayed by a spouse and with a pat on the shoulder and a slight pep in the voice parrot, “You’re just gonna have to choose joy for a while.”

What would Paul have said to the virgin Mary? “Listen, I know you wanted to enjoy a week-long wedding celebration and begin a family the natural way, but you have a great opportunity in front of you. Choose joy!”

Mary intuits what Paul himself would say, or at least what I think he would say. In view of a joy that is steady and enduring, Paul expounds in Philippians 4.4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”

There it is. The prepositional phrase that makes joy feel like a true possibility.

As famed theologian Daniel Tiger says, “It’s okay to feel two things at the same time.” You might feel sorrow, as well as joy. Like Mary, you might be concerned over all the unknowns but express joy and gratitude over what is known.

King David himself, in a dark season of self-inflicted agony, pleaded with God, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…” (Psalm 51.12).

In other words, joy is not mutually exclusive of other feelings. Nor does it supersede the rawness of life.

Advent and the coming of the Christ child remind us that the only sustainable source of joy is in the Lord who works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose.

Patrick Mitchell

Executive Pastor of Ministries