Joy might not be the word that describes your emotional life right now. I can’t imagine what you have been going through, but after 21 of a global pandemic, rampant racial injustice, job loss and financial hardship, mental health struggles, and everyday sufferings that come with living in a broken world…well, let’s just say joy might not be the emotion any of us are feeling right now.
But hear me out—we can be joyful, even in the midst of hardship.
Ed Welch describes this intermingling of emotions well when he writes, “Joy is not…a denial of pain. Because God’s splendor ascends over the sorrow of life, joy is possible” (Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness; pg. 247).
What is this splendor? What could possibly carry us above the sorrow we experience, the sin that tempts us, and the suffering we see around us?
His name is Jesus.
The season of advent helps us to embrace these mixed emotions. On one hand, we rejoice—Christ has come! He lived a perfect life on earth, and bore our sin and shame on the cross. We are a redeemed people and can be genuinely joyful. And yet, our lives remain embedded in a world marked by sin and suffering. We grieve the loss we experience and the injustices we witness.
In a profound way, we can say that the season of advent extends outside of the time limits we give it in our regular calendar year. In fact, our experience this side of heaven most closely aligns with the reality that we live in a perpetual season of advent that is characterized by waiting for our King to return.
What, then, does this mean for our joy today?
It means that it’s okay that our joy does not always translate into feelings of happiness. We do not have to hide our tears and deny the pain we see in order to experience joy. This side of heaven, the Christian life is a life marked by an intermingling of joy and sorrow.
It also means that we can be authentically joyful, even in the midst of experiencing darkness. We can have true joy that is rooted in God’s unending and enduring faithfulness to us that is most clearly seen in the first coming of our Savior. Indeed, we need this joy that is rooted in Christ. With it we acknowledge that all is not lost—there is hope. The sorrow that surrounds us, that can feel so overwhelming at times, cannot eclipse the radiant joy we’ve found with Christ. We have salvation now. Our sins, right this moment, are forgiven. We can rejoice!
And yet, we wait, acknowledging that we live during a period of history where joy and sorrow coexist. We celebrate that Jesus has come, and we eagerly anticipate his coming once again.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a glimmer of what that day will be like. He writes:
“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return And come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Is. 35:10)
This is the day we have in store for us as Christians, a day of everlasting joy where “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” A day where we will be reunited with our Savior and see him face to face. When our faith will finally be sight, every tear will be wiped away by God himself, and there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, and no more pain.
On that day our joy will be full.
I’ll leave you with the last stanza of one of my favorite poems. I encourage you to read it slowly.
“When tears are banished from mine eye;
When fairer worlds than these are nigh;
When heaven shall fill my ravished sight;
When I shall bathe in sweet delight,
One joy all joys shall far excel,
To see Thy face, Immanuel.”
-Charles Spurgeon | Immanuel
Joy marked with sorrow may be our present experience, but with Christ, a joy that surpasses all other joys is our guaranteed future.
Merry Christmas, my friends.