[From the archives.]
It all starts with a little girl putting her money in a hat:
Did you see the kids helping to conduct and adults here and there singing along with the professional choir? And of all the people in the crowd, I’d want to be the little girl on the lamppost. Best seat in the house!
They were performing Beethoven’s 9th, and after watching that video is there any question why we call that part of the piece Ode To Joy?
There’s something indescribable about joy. Sure we try to define it, but does a string of words – no matter how well put together – do justice to the essence of Joy?
A deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment. (dictionary.com.)
No, words on the screen just don’t get the idea across. But that doesn’t mean Joy isn’t real. In fact, Joy is so real, it has spiritual significance.
Joy Under the New Covenant
In the New Testament, the word translated into English as “joy” is the Greek word chara, which is closely related to chairo meaning “rejoice” and charis often translated as “grace”. (Strong’s Greek Concordance 5479.) Rejoicing is what we might do when we experience joy and grace is certainly something to have joy in, so I can see how the Greek words are considered to be so closely related not only in spelling and origin but also in use and practice.
Here’s one example from the New Testament where God’s grace should certainly make us joyful:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9.)
Does anyone need more reason to be joyful? I was dead in sin, God in his grace made me alive, a free gift and not something I had to earn, and he has already seated me with Jesus in heaven. It doesn’t get better than that!
Joy Under the Old Covenant
What about Old Testament, though, is there no joy in the Old Testament? Sure there is.
Nehemiah had been appointed governor over Jerusalem, overseeing the reconstruction of a city that had experienced devastating wars and shepherding a people who had lived in far-off exile for over a generation. One day he gathered everyone together, adults and children, to hear the word of God. As they listened, God’s people started to understand how much they had strayed from the commands God had given through Moses.
They felt not joy but sadness, and experienced grief at their shortcomings. Nehemiah soon changed all that:
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. (Nehemiah 8:9-12.)
What had been made known to them, what turned their grief into joy? The explanation that this was a day holy to God. That this day was not about them. That this day was about God.
They became joyful when they realized it’s not about them but about God, and they grew strong in their joy of the Lord.
True joy has always been found in God and, like the ancient Israelites, we can look to him for that joy even when we know we have fallen short of his holiness. After all, our joy is not found in living up to his standards but in him living through us and bearing fruit in us as we abide in him. (John 15:1-8.) And as we focus upon him we stop thinking of ourselves, which leads to all the baggage we tend to carry around falling by the wayside. (Hebrews 12:1-2.)
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
(Henry J. van Dyke, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, 1907.)
Joy: It’s about God.