Joy

Joy Is Like The Rain

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me … He has sent Me to bring glad tidings
Luke 1:1-4, 4:14

Joy

How St. Paul must have treasured those words which Jesus spoke in the synagogue! “He has sent Me to bring glad tidings.” The “glad tidings”–the Good News of Jesus Christ–flooded Paul’s spirit to overflowing, and no amount of suffering and misfortune could deter him from sharing it with others. It’s an incredible thing, the story of Paul’s immense struggle to spread the glad tidings. And the most incredible part of it is, that a man who suffered so much could feel and express so much joy! In Second Corinthians, Paul recalls some of the things that had happened to him: five times he received forty lashes, less one; three times he was beaten with rods; once he was stoned (that is, people threw rocks at him); three times he was shipwrecked. “I traveled continually,” Paul says, “endangered by floods, robbers, my own people, the Gentiles; imperiled in the city, in the desert, at sea, by false brothers; enduring labor, hardship, many sleepless nights; in hunger and nakedness” (2 Cor.11:26-27). And that is just a partial list. Throughout Paul’s career, people and events seemed to conspire in a continuing effort literally to beat the joy out of him. Yet, to the very end, Paul’s spirit is drenched in joy. Imprisoned, and awaiting the trial that will result in his execution, Paul writes a letter of joy to the Church at Philippi. More than twenty times, in this little letter, Paul speaks about the joy he has found, the joy he is experiencing, the joy he wants to share. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Paul writes. “I say it again. Rejoice!” (Phil.4:4). Now, how in the world could a man who suffered so much, experience so much joy? Paul himself answers: “The Lord is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds. Present your needs to God in every form of prayer … Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds, in Jesus Christ” (Phil.4:5-7). Paul is telling us that through Jesus Christ we are able to identify with the life of God. We are able to give ourselves freely and completely to God and, as we do this, God gives us the gift of joy. And in this sense, joy is like the rain. It is not something that we manufacture. It is not something that we earn. It is a sheer gift of God’s love and of His Grace. He gives it to us because He loves us, not because we deserve it, necessarily. Like the man who received a special award at a banquet given in his honor. In his acceptance speech, he said, “I don’t deserve this award, but then, I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either–so I’ll take the award.” The Grace of joy is not a matter of deserving or earning or calculating or trying to bring it into being somehow. What Paul discovered is that when he followed Christ, when he gave himself fully to God, God gave him this gift of joy.

Now, it is good that we are able to spend a few moments talking about this, because we are under such pressures these days, many of us. Some of us have physical or emotional problems. Some have problems of relationships. Many of us share a deep, deep concern about the condition of the world in which we live and a desire to do something about it, specifically. Part of our problem is that the things we’re facing are not new, but everything is just moving so much faster. Here is a little example that should make your day. A scientific journal recently reported that it would take fifty people, working day and night for two hundred years, to make the same mistakes that an electronic computer can make in two seconds. That’s the world we live in and we’re caught up in it. There’s no way to stop the world and get off. And many of us, feeling these pressures, begin to despair.

What kind of a world is it when marriages are breaking up and there’s no communication between parents and children and our cities are filled with suffering and violence and one war ends and another begins? What Paul does is remind us that in spite of all of this, in the midst of all of this, often because of the way we face all of this, it is possible for us to be, whatever else we are, people of joy. I’m not talking about a superficial happiness, where you wear a pasted-on smile all the time. It is blasphemous to be happy all the time in a world like ours. But there is a difference between ordinary happiness and genuine joy. Many of you saw the Charlie Brown strip where Charlie is asking little Linus what he wants to be when he grows up and Linus replies “Outrageously happy!” We can understand this, but what Linus is going to discover is that in a world like ours it’s not possible to be outrageously happy, certainly not all the time. What Paul is saying to us is that if we hear the Gospel, if we follow the way of Christ and identify with God, if we give ourselves to Him, moment by moment, we will discover God’s gift of joy. We need to learn to let go at those points in our lives where we’ve been saying, “Everything God, but this.” A relationship, a habit, a thought pattern, some deep ingrown prejudice, just let everything go, give yourself to God and, in doing so, discover the gift of joy.

Joy is like the rain. We can sit here and want to be joyful and try to manufacture joy, and never get anywhere. But if we position ourselves before God, and love and trust and give ourselves to Him, joy is given to us as a gift of His Grace, a gift of His love. Now in this deep sense, joy is like the rain, but there’s one other way. Joy is like the rain in that it is a very nourishing gift. Without the rain there is no life. Anyone who has lived in the desert for any length of time develops a special appreciation for the life-giving rain most of us take for granted. Anyone who has lived through a disastrous drought can tell you that when the rain finally breaks through there is this urge to get into it and let it surround you. You want to soak it up, make it part of you and you rejoice in the new, life-giving atmosphere all around you. That’s the way it is with God’s gift of joy when it breaks through into your life. It creates a whole new life-giving atmosphere, a new freedom, a new kind of integrity, a new kind of fulfillment. And, in this sense, joy is a very nourishing gift for us.

But it is also nourishing for the people around us and perhaps this is the most important thing we will say today about joy. I wonder if most of us who come to Church have taken the time to realize that we really have a choice. We don’t have to choose Jesus Christ. We don’t have to choose to belong to Him. We don’t have to choose to be Christians. We have that choice. But if we choose Christ, there is one area in which we have no choice from then on. If we choose to identify with Jesus Christ, then from that time on we are ministers to other people. This is what it means to belong to Christ. From the moment of our belonging to Him, we care about others in a new kind of way. We give ourselves to others and for others in a new life-fulfilling kind of way. If you are here because you have chosen for Christ, you have your own people to minister to. Each of us has a certain context of human life in which we are living out our days. We will touch the lives of many people this next week. We will, everyone of us. And we, in the most loving, free kind of way, are to be ministers to these people. God has sent us to them as ministers. God has sent us as bearers of the glad tidings we have received from Jesus. Most of us know of marriages that are breaking up and the terrible pain and suffering that comes with that: years invested now seeming to be going for nothing. And we know of children who are involved who may be scarred for life. Most of us know of abandoned and lonely people living right here in our own community. Most of us know of institutionalized people who never have a visitor from one year to the next. Most of us know of people who are in desperate need of material support. Most of us know of a special need in the life of someone close that can only be filled by us. Most of us, therefore, know where our ministry lies.

From Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we have read, “It was in one Spirit that all of us . . . were baptized into one body. All of us have been given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor.l1:13). We who, in truth, have chosen for Christ, cannot now choose other than to carry that Spirit into our Christian ministries. If, in truth, we have chosen for Christ, then God’s Spirit of Joy has broken through into our lives, and we are sent by God to bring these glad tidings to others. There will be times when people and events seem to conspire in an effort to beat the joy out of us. But we who have chosen for Christ and we who have been drenched with God’s gift of joy, can then say with St. Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again. Rejoice!”

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