Rejoice in the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 97
We think of happiness and joy as the same quality, and yet there are significant differences. Someone has said that "happiness" depends on what "happens." It is the pleasure that arises in satisfactory circumstances.

We were all shocked by the smiling television pictures of one of the Bali bombers. He knows he may face the death penalty, but he is happy. Now the mastermind is telling the world that he has "no regrets." We have great difficulty understanding their "happiness." Yet they successfully completed their plot to maximise the casualties. They are "happy." They have been trained to accept suicide for their cause and promised in Muslim teaching instant access to Paradise.

We are shocked by such "happiness" which bypasses conscience and the care for other people which we have assumed. Yet, in its twisted way, it illustrates "happiness" as the pleasure that arises in satisfactory circumstances.

"Joy" isnít a circumstance-dependent emotion. It is God-dependent and springs from our relationship to God. In Ps. 16.1 we hear David saying, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

In Phil. 4.4-7, we read, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Peter writes that "for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet. 1.6-9).

Joy doesnít ignore the "trials" we may have to face. It springs from a deep conviction and trust in Godís presense and activity and goodwill, no matter what happens. Thatís why, in the Philippian jail, "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God..." (Acts 16.25).

Thatís why Ps. 97 can begin, "The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice" (v. 1). The rejoicing is because of Godís character and activity in the world - his "righteousness and justice" (v. 2). "Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name" (vv. 11-12).

Christmas is only a month away. Shops are decked out colourfully with pleasant music playing quietly in the background. Itís a big celebration and lots of happiness will be expressed - at least on the surface. We donít like to think about domestic violence and the crowding of the womenís refuges at this time of the year.

But then we do that with the awkward parts of the Christmas story too. We are entranced by the "manger" without contemplating the implications of having a cattle feeding-trough for a babyís cot. We want "peace and goodwill" without giving "glory to God in the highest." We are glad the holy family slipped through Herodís net to safety and ignore the horrible grief Herodís soldiers brought to the other families in Bethlehem. We like the story of Baby Jesus, but donít really want to face the realities of his life, death and resurrection - and his call on our life today.

Joy to the world? Thereíll be lots of fun and laughter, but are we ready to "rejoice in the Lord"? "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2.10-11).
Prayer: Eternal Father, itís nearly Christmas again. In the midst of cards and presents and celebrations, enable us to keep our focus on you, to receive your good news of great joy, to rejoice in you. Help us to spread the good news and to bring hope and encouragement to all with whom we come in contact. In Jesusí name, Amen.

Great Joy!

Pack your bags,
pack the car,
travel near
or travel far -
Christmas time
is here again!
Come and join
the Christmas fun!

Jingle bells
call jingling cash -
come and join
the maddening dash
to buy the biggest
and the best
so our loved one
is impressed!
Even when
the moneyís tight,
let it shine
the Christmas light!

Who would know
that Christmas joy
isnít found
in latest toy?
Christ is born -
now spread the word
till the furthest place
has heard!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin BlueCare Devotions, 26 November 2002.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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