Many people have said 2020 was a rough year. And there were things that were rough about it. Losses are rough. Uncertainty is rough. Isolation from those who are near and dear to you is rough. We all have felt sad, worried, and lonely at different points over the past year. As missionaries, we have felt many of those things over the course of years served overseas. We’re not down playing any of those feelings or experiences. But our experience with many of those things in the past has given us another perspective.
First off, we learned that there is a difference between “happy” and “joy”. Happy depends on our feelings and circumstances. So our happiness can vary greatly, particularly this year. You may experience happiness as you follow God’s Word, but God’s Word does not promise us that we will live in a continual state of being happy. He doesn’t even promise that everything will go easy for us. He admonishes us that we will face rough times in this world. People will hate us because we are following Christ. Experiencing suffering should not surprise us. After all, Christ suffered. Experiencing rough things comes part and parcel with being a light in a dark and fallen world.
On the other hand, God’s Word does promise us joy. Joy is much more to be desired than happiness. Joy is a state. Joy depends on what Christ has done, is doing, and will continue to do in our lives and the future. Joy is not dependent on our feelings. It is only dependent on the circumstance of us being in Christ. He is the source of joy. And when you have joy because of what Christ has done for you, then the natural out-flowing of that joy is in rejoicing!
Think about Paul and Silas. They understood joy. We know this because they were rejoicing in prison. They were not focusing on their circumstances, but they were focusing on what Christ had already done for them. They were looking at their situation from a heavenly perspective, not a worldly one. They were excited that God considered them worthy enough to suffer just a little like Christ had suffered for them. And because they had joy, they were able to rejoice in the Lord.
So rejoicing is not something that we drum up when we feel happy. But as we focus on Jesus and what he has done for us, the Holy Spirit gives us joy, and rejoicing pours out as a natural result. Like Paul and Silas, we can rejoice even in difficult circumstances. Even when we don’t feel like it. Because joy is not dependent on our feelings, but our focus.
We can expect that we will face loss in this fallen world. We may lose friends and family members. People we know and love may die. We may lose material things or jobs. We may lose money or dreams of what we hoped would happen. But, we can still have joy. We can have joy, because we will NEVER lose the Messiah. He will not die again. We are one with Him. He holds us in His hands and there is nothing that can take us out of them. Should our physical bodies die, our spirits will be with Him from now through the rest of eternity. Should our Lord return, we will meet him in the air, and we will be changed, and we will be with Him from then through the rest of eternity.
We can expect that we will face uncertainty in our circumstances in this world. Plagues, disasters, elections, closings/ openings, closed borders, failed travel plans, may shake our happiness. But we can still have joy, because we can have certainty of hope in Christ.
Think about it. ALL that God has promised concerning the Messiah will come true. God doesn’t lie. He fulfills all of his promises. So then, hope is looking forward to actually seeing those promises come true, and knowing with a certainty that it will happen just as God has said it will.
Abraham called God by the name “Almighty God”. That name means Abraham believed that God has all the power he needs to make his promises come true. God had promised Abram that through him all the world would be blessed (a reference to the Messiah). God had promised Abraham a son. Abraham believed God’s promises that through Isaac’s descendants the promised Messiah would come. Because he believed God could do anything, including provide the offering or raise his son from the dead, Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac on an altar.
We too can believe that God is all powerful and able to bring about all that he has promised. Jesus promised his disciples that just as he ascended, so he should return. The groom has gone to prepare a place for us. God has promised that Jesus will return for the church, his bride, and that there will be a wedding feast. Today, we are the betrothed bride looking forward to our groom, the Messiah, returning and coming for us, to escort us to be with him. Jesus is the reason for our joy and our rejoicing.
We can expect that we will face isolation in this world. People, governments, institutions, and individuals will always let us down. However, we can have joy, because Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us. He sent the promised Holy Spirit to us, the moment we believed. And the Holy Spirit baptized us into a union with Christ. Today the Holy Spirit lives in us as a seal and a down-payment of the “How much more there is yet to come.” We may feel alone. But we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is working in us, whatever our circumstances, that we will be refined to be more Christ-like. He encourages us. He gives us joy and peace. He enables us to rejoice in all things.
So today, no matter what our circumstances, we can rejoice because Emanuel, “God is with us”, came to earth, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, suffered for us, died in our place, was raised from the dead to new life. He is the reason we can all sing “Joy to the World the Lord is come!”