The first time my family went to an amusement park, I was incredibly scared. Now I played it as cool as any young boy could, but inside I was freaking out. I had never really been on a “big kid” ride before, so the Six Flags theme park filled me with both excitement and horror.
I vividly remember piling onto the seats of the log ride with my mom and brother. Sitting between them, my hands around my mother with my brother behind me, we wound through the course. And when we made the climb to the big drop, I felt my brother pushing against me. But he wasn’t pressing me.
I was leaning back. My body was resisting the unwanted momentum of the moment.
It’s a natural reaction, honestly, when you find yourself being swept toward something you either didn’t expect or didn’t ask for. We lean back, you and I. It’s actually a pretty common response in life.
When tragedy and horror enter our lives like it did one week ago today in Connecticut;
when our hearts seek answers to questions that strike at the core of our being;
when solutions to complicated problems seem elusive;
when we experience fear in anticipation of events on life’s horizon;
or even when we encounter great successes that we want to define us.
We lean back in life when we desperately want the momentum of life to slow down or to turn back the clock. When fear or pride gets the best of us. When we stop looking ahead and seek instead to stay put.
But a funny thing happened on that log ride: it kept moving forward no matter how much I leaned back. And life moves forward whether we want it to or not.
When life makes us want to slow down, joy keeps our eyes on the horizon. It keeps us moving forward knowing that what lies before us is better than what is behind.
Or as Scott said the other day, joy “is a signpost for what is to come. It is a glimpse of something we have yet to experience.”
It’s joy that caused a young Jewish girl to boldly lean into the criticism and public scorn of a premarital pregnancy. It drips from her words in Luke 1:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me —
holy is his name.”
It was joy that helped a young man believe the unbelievable story of his betrothed and stay faithful to his vow as a loyal husband.
And it’s the joy of the coming of Christ that keeps us moving forward even in the face of devastation or fear or pride or pain. The ones who lean forward are the ones who enjoy the ride.
So today, no matter what life is throwing your way, may you not lean back. May you instead throw your hands up, lean forward and experience the thrill of the ride. Joy can exist in our greatest times of happiness or our strongest moments of pain.
Because Jesus has come. And he’s coming again.
Joy to the world.