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Surprised by Joy

Joy can be found in unlikely places

Still thinking about joy …

Rather than consult a dictionary we can do better by looking at how Jesus used the word and then arrive at a relevant definition. Here are some meaty verses to get us thinking:

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. (Luke 6:23)

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. (Luke 10:21)

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)

Joy in these circumstances came about through hearing the gospel and realising its implications, through having the Holy Spirit living within and for the assurance to Jesus of the joy experienced by those who listened to him. In this sense we can deduce that the gospel brings joy to all who receive it. So, although joy may be experienced in many other of life’s experiences, such as the chatter of a baby, or the taste of a good vintage wine, it is a guaranteed by-product of the gospel of Jesus. Even suffering can bring joy (Acts 5:41). So, if we’re Christians and not experiencing joy, perhaps there’s something missing?

The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. (Acts 16:34)

Perhaps we have lost something, perhaps the new wine has become corked? It was well sour at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, beaten down by religious duty. Even though there may have been the appearance of joy as they touched the cracked stone, it came from a false premise of blessings associated with dead stone, rather than the real blessings that we, the living stones, can pour into each other. Perhaps we need a reminder. I certainly had one at the Western Wall, with the realisation of how the joy that I witnessed there will be magnified n-fold when ‘all Israel shall be saved’ and that the dancing and singing will be prompted by the rediscovery of their Messiah, rather than the weekly blessing of the Sabbath.

Joy isn’t just associated with the Sabbath for Jewish people. There is a Jewish festival called Simchat Torah. It was accidentally experienced one day by none other than the diarist Samuel Pepys on the 14th October 1683, when he stumbled upon a synagogue service in East London. Here are some of his observations in his own words.

… after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles (tallit), and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law (Torah scroll), in a press to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew. But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. Away thence with my mind strongly disturbed with them, by coach …

Disorder, laughing, confusion! Oh! That our churches could manifest so! Even if we may seem like brutes rather than good polite English gentlemen sitting patiently in the pews! Simchat Torah, Joy in the Law. It’s the festival to revere the Word of God and, according to the Chabad Jewish website, is characterised by “utterly unbridled joy”. The Torah has a high place in the Jewish religious hierarchy and is the source of great joy. And so it should be, as the Psalms tell us so:

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. (Psalm 19:8)

Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. (Psalm 119:111)

This is an extract from the book, Shalom, available for £10 at https://www.sppublishing.com/shalom-239-p.asp

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