This is the 3rd Sunday in Advent and our theme is “Joy!”
The Hebrew Bible is filled with Joy. The words “joy,” “rejoice,” or “rejoicing” occur 242 times:
- 11 times in the Pentateuch (Gen through Deut)
- 114 times in the Wisdom Literature (Job through Song of Solomon)
- 73 times in the Prophets (Major and Minor)
- 44 times in the Historical Books (Joshua through Ester).
Over and over again the people of Israel are told to “rejoice before the LORD” as they celebrate God’s goodness to their nation in everything from the Exodus from Egypt, to the annual harvest, to the hope of the people for a bright and prosperous future. Deuteronomy 12:18 declares, “You shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you undertake.”
The act of rejoicing involved food, and drink, and feasting, and festivals, and offerings, and sacrifices. It could last for the time it takes to accomplish a single sacrifice, or for the seven days of a festival. Rejoicing was commanded for the people, their children, their menservants and maidservants, the Levite, the sojourners in the land, and the fatherless and widows.
In Psalm 4:6-8, the Psalmist is the prototypical example of those who are faithful to the LORD when he sings:
“6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Lift up the light of you countenance upon us, O LORD!” 7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. 8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
In the New Testament the words “joy,” “rejoice,” or “rejoicing”occur 112 times:
- 39 times in the gospels.
- 10 times in the Book of Acts
- 47 times in the Pauline Corpus, Romans through Philemon
- 12 times in Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1,2 and 3 John, Jude
- 4 times in Revelation.
Joy is a major theme in the gospels. Consider Luke’s gospel as a prime example. In Luke 1 an angel appears to Zechariah while he serves at the temple saying:
“Your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Later in the chapter, Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus to Mary his mother to be, and Mary went to the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth, the mother to be of John the Baptist. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby in her womb “leaped for joy.”
After the birth of Jesus has been confirmed by her kinswoman Elizabeth that Mary the Mother to be of Jesus declares, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
In Luke chapter 2, angels announce to the shepherds “Good news of a great joy which will be to all people.”
Time passes, and about thirty years later, in Luke 10, Jesus sends out the seventy to preach, and when they return, they return “with joy,” saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Jesus immediately warns them saying, “… do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In the same hour, Jesus:
“…rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said: ‘I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.’”
In Luke 13, the people who saw and heard Jesus rejoiced at all the glorious things that were said and done by him. In Luke 15, in the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, Jesus speaks of the “joy in heaven” over the salvation of a single sinner who, though lost, has been found. And in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus describes one of the most festive homecomings in all of scripture, as the Waiting Father celebrates the return of the prodigal son, who “was lost, and now is found.”
In Luke 19, as Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem, and his destiny, riding on a colt, the foal of an ass, the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen him do. And finally, in Luke 24:41, after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples still still “disbelieved for joy,” when Jesus spoke to them saying, “Have you anything here to eat?”
St. Paul and his followers use the words joy, rejoice, and rejoicing 47 times, even more than these words are used in the gospels. Here are a few examples:
In Rom. 5:2 and following Paul writes:
“2 We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance character, and character hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”
In Rom. 5:11 Paul writes, “we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.”
In Rom. 12 the apostle tells Christians to “rejoice in our hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer. “ We are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
In Romans 14, we learn that “the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And in Romans 15 the apostle prays for the church in Rome saying, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
In the Corinthians correspondence, we learn that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”(1Cor. 12:26) And that, “love does it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” (1Cor 13:6)
In his epistles and those attributed to him, the Apostle Paul rejoices 1) over the preaching of the gospel, whether it is preached in truth or out of jealousy, 2) over the churches and their faithfulness, generosity, and kindnesses to one another and to those they have never met. 3) over the concern of the churches have shown for him, and notes that these concerns have often overflowed in concrete expression through the emissaries, visits, and gifts of the churches. 4) over the coming and going of various co-workers, people like Timothy and Titus who support his mission, and that of the churches.
In Galatians, the Apostle says that Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:24)
In Philippians St. Paul writes that the Christians in Philippi can complete his joy, “ by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” He regards the believers in Philippi as his “joy and crown,” and he is glad and rejoices with them all, even if his own future means only physical death. He knows that physical death is not the end for him. Therefore, three times he exhorts the believers in Philippi saying, “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.” “Rejoice in the Lord always.” “Again I will say, Rejoice.” How can they not rejoice, for Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all who embrace the Good News.
Finally, it is worth noting that in Colossians 1:24 the apostle writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
Paul saw his suffering as an extension of Christ’s own suffering. For twenty centuries Christians have argued over the place of suffering in our lives. Some say we should seek it, and extremists have inflicted suffering on themselves. Some say we should not seek it, or bring it on ourselves through foolish actions, but we should expect it. “Arm yourselves this thought, writes the Apostle Peter, “Christ suffered in the flesh!” And we might ask, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone?” Still others say that we should not seek suffering, or worry about it in advance, “let the evil of today be sufficient for today,” but accept it when it comes. All who are apart of this discussion agree that the supreme expression of faith is to “rejoice,” even in the midst of suffering.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has added to the suffering of many. Let us continue to pray that 2021 will see the end of the pandemic and the return to normalcy for our world. And let us consider all of our blessings, and all of our losses in light of what God has done for the world in the person of his son, Jesus.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing
Prayer: Psalm 126
A Song of Ascents. 1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” 3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. 4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb! 5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! 6 He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.