Last week, I saw a wonderful picture of joy. Late Friday evening, we put the sled in the car, bundled up in our boots and coveralls and drove over to Arbor Springs Elementary School. They have a rather substantial hill in the front of the school that was perfect for sledding! When we got there, we found that we were not the only ones to have this idea. Several other families were already there, sliding down the hill on a variety of improvised sleds. We saw children sliding on trash can lids and pool toys and pieces of cardboard. The one thing that all of these kids had in common, regardless of their selected mode of transport, they were all laughing and shouting and having a great deal of fun. Even the dad or two that braved the hill let down his tough façade and giggled just a bit.
Some might say that this was a picture of happiness, not joy, but I tend to disagree, for I remember when I was a child and we got the random snowfall. We were happy that we missed school, but we were rejoicing when we got to play in the snow. The difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is fleeting, but joy abides in the heart. I tend to think that kids come into the world with a certain amount of joy preinstalled. The world does everything in its power to kill the joy, by leading children into sin and leading others to sin against them, but a good snow tends to let the joy bubble back to the top – if only for a moment.
Have you thought much about joy lately? Have you noticed how joy is getting harder and harder to find? It’s easy to see why. We’re engaged in wars. We are suffering under a difficult economy with high unemployment. We’re seeing a great deal of human suffering around the world. With all of this, we’ll take joy wherever we can find it, even if it is on the side of US 29 on a snowy hill!
Christians should not have to work too hard to find joy. We can find joy in joyful places – snowy days and delivery rooms. But Christians are uniquely equipped to find joy in some of the most unusual places. We can find joy in the hospital room when everything didn’t go as planned. We can find joy at the funeral home celebrating the life of a saint. We can find joy in the jail cell with cold, iron shackles around our feet. Many have even found joy as they have been beaten for their faith. We have found our greatest joy at a hill called Calvary and a garden cemetery. In those two places, our joy has been made the fullest – for it is in those two places where our Lord Jesus Christ died and was summarily resurrected. If you are looking for joy anywhere else, you had better change your focus.
This week we will begin our study through the book of Philippians. This four chapter letter to the church at Philippi is often called the “Joy letter” because of Paul’s emphasis on the notion of joy and rejoicing. What makes this idea so compelling is that Paul was writing these things while imprisoned for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was locked up in a cold, dark jail cell under the constant watch of Roman thugs. He had no family to tend to his needs, just Jesus and the companionship of his fellow captives – murders and extortionists and rioters and rebels and preachers – a rough crowd if there ever was one. Yet in the midst of such dismal surroundings, Paul has no hesitation telling the church at Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord” reminding them that his imprisonment has actually resulted in kingdom growth. Rejoice!
Maybe your joy tank is running on low. Get ready for a healthy dose of joy from the Apostle Paul as we begin working through his letter to the Philippians.
Again I say rejoice!