Isaiah 35:10 “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
A couple years ago, when our daughter Abby was in third grade, she said, with complete seriousness, “I have a question for you, Mom. What is your ninth favorite color?” Then she waited patiently for my answer.
I must admit, questions like that bring me joy, the kind that flares in my chest and prompts an instant smile. Joy comes in many forms, although I suspect we don’t always think of joy as a complex emotion, perhaps because we’re just so relieved when it does show up. But joy deserves a closer look. In this third week of advent, we’re encouraged to ponder how joy arises through Christ. Right away we sense the possibilities. There’s the “everlasting joy” of God’s promise in the scripture from Isaiah. There’s the joy of comfort in being part of God’s family. The joy of anticipation as we light each advent candle. Of community as we worship together.
And yet there’s more. I wonder if joy might also be a little intimidating. Popular culture, with all its talk of “sparking joy,” would have us believe that we’re always in pursuit of that feeling. But don’t we sometimes retreat from joy, too? We might retreat from it because we’re abiding a grief that makes joy seem indulgent or even impossible. We might retreat because it appears too good to be true. Or because we feel unworthy.
But joy is generous. It can accommodate, with tender familiarity, any sorrow or confusion that lives alongside it. Joy is the constancy of God’s love. That’s not something we have to spark on our own. And it stays with us even when we withdraw. The poet Carl Sandburg wrote, “Let a joy keep you.” Sandburg had it right: joy is already bestowed, no matter if we’re in pursuit or retreat. We’re kept by joy. Kept by God’s love.