We are excited to have Scott Elliot as our guest blogger this week. Scott is the minister at the La Grange Church of Christ in La Grange, TX. We all happened upon Scott in different ways. Chris discovered him through his excellent blog. Allen found him by his Relevant magazine movie reviews. Trevor went to college with him (at the greatest university in the world) and interned with his wife. He is an excellent writer and we are blessed to have his thoughts on joy this week.
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” C. S. Lewis
The above quote is from a famous sermon C. S. Lewis preached entitled, “The Weight of Glory.” It is a marvelous sermon that touches on several different subjects, but the purpose of this article is to look at the subject of joy. According to Lewis, joy is something many people miss out on. They may experience it from time to time, but they do not grasp what it is all about. God longs for us to experience joy and blessedness, but we are too often satisfied with happiness and pleasure. Joy and blessedness are long-lasting, but happiness and pleasure quickly fade away. Joy and blessedness stick with us, but happiness and pleasure come and go. One can experience joy from a prison cell and blessedness while being persecuted, but the circumstances have to be just right for happiness and pleasure to make an appearance. Joy and blessedness are what we ought to seek for ourselves, but sadly, Lewis was right. We often forgo joy and blessedness for things which may or may not provide a sliver of happiness or pleasure.
Joy is special. I do believe there are two kinds of joy, but I believe they are connected. There is the joy which cannot be taken away. It is the joy Paul possessed. From behind prison bars he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). Nothing could take that joy away. It was a joy Paul had no matter what the circumstances were. It is a joy that cannot be explained. It is a joy based upon the hope of what is to come. Although this world is full of evil, the Christian can be full of joy because he or she sees what no one else can. Our joy is grounded not in what is happening, but in what is going to happen.
The second kind of joy is the one most people are familiar with. It is something we receive from a great meal with friends or a piece of art that moves us in ways others do not. It is something that anyone can experience regardless if they are a Christian or not. The mistake people sometimes make is to say one joy is better than another, or one joy is spiritual and the other is material. This is not true. Joy is still joy, although the catalyst for it might be different. This second joy is just as spiritual as the first, but many people do not understand this. They may have a brush with joy, but they do not understand its full meaning. Joy is a small glimpse of what is to come. Most people settle for pleasure, but joy is a reminder that there is something on the horizon. It is a fulfillment of a longing and desire for something better, a place we have yet to visit.
There is a danger in this second joy. Some may experience it, not understand it, and equate joy with the thing itself. C. S. Lewis explains it this way,
“The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself;
they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
This is why joy is often misunderstood. People do not understand joy for what it is. It is a signpost for what is to come. It is a glimpse of something we have yet to experience.
This week, we celebrate Advent, the coming of Christ into the world. Jesus entered into our world of pain and suffering to bring us good news. He is our hope. He is the source of life. He is our joy. We celebrate his birth, his life, and his sacrifice, but we must remember this is only the first advent. We live between two advents, and the first should remind of the second. Jesus came into the world to redeem the world and all creation. When he comes again, his work will be complete. Sin and death will be no more. We will dwell together in the new Jerusalem. We will experience pure, unadulterated joy. We will be in the place we have been longing for our entire lives.
As you come together to celebrate Christmas with friends and family members, remember to recognize the joy you experience for what it really is. The meal you eat together is a reminder of the great banquet we will enjoy together at the return of Jesus. The blessings of seeing individuals you have not seen all year is a glimpse of the great reunion we will all experience one day. The joy of opening presents underneath the tree is a small peek of the overwhelming joy we will encounter when we see Jesus in all his glory and splendor. Do not make the mistake of stopping with the things themselves, but understand the joys we experience here on earth are a signpost of better things to come.