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What Jesus said about Joy

In the final hours before his arrest, Jesus did his best to prepare his disciples for what was to come.  Jesus spoke of his death, eluded to his resurrection, said he would again go away, and promised the gift of the Holy Spirit.  These powerful passages include reminders for loving one another and remaining obedient to God.  They are full of confusion and grief, but also hope and even joy.  John records a whole conversation about joy in chapter 16 of his gospel.

19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, "Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me'? 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."

The line that stands out most to me is, "and no one will take away your joy."  What can Jesus mean?  In my own season of confusion and grief, I am clinging to this kind of joy, so here are three ideas that may help us recognize joy as something no one can take away.

Joy and Happiness are Different
Because our twenty-first century American understanding of joy is often comparable to happiness, it may be helpful to look at the word joy in the Greek, from which our English Bible was translated.  In this case, the word 'chara' can be defined as joy and delight, gladness or cheerfulness, and calm delight.  While this sounds similar to how we might define happiness, it is important to note that happy is infrequently used in the Bible, and only once used by Jesus (John 13:17, also translated as blessed).  On the other hand, joy (joyful, joyous, etc.) is found hundreds of times throughout scripture and Jesus uses the term joy in several different conversations.  Biblically, joy is altogether different from happiness.  In particular, the notion of calm delight connotes steadiness and maturity not often related to the short-lived, squealing delight more commonly associated with a happy event.  This calm delight, that is not dependent on circumstance, cannot be taken away.

That Ache may be Joy in Disguise
The writing of author C.S. Lewis was a great help to my understanding of joy in the context of faith.  In his book, Surprised by Joy, Lewis explains that, "Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing."  He was saying, in part, that the anticipation of joy, the hope for it, is in fact joy as well.  At first this may seem odd, but if you recall Christmas as a child, looking forward to opening the gifts was almost as good as (and even sometimes better than) sitting with your unwrapped treasure.  In the longing lies hope and promise—a light at the end of the tunnel—that makes present circumstances bearable.  We ache for something different because we believe it is possible.  That is evidence of faith in what we long for, what we anticipate, that object of our joy.  In this case, faith in Jesus, which no one can take away.

Joy is Just a Word Away
Finally, a deeper look into this particular conversation can give insight into Jesus' meaning.  Jesus is speaking about his death and resurrection, a time of grief followed by a time of joy, but he goes on to describe a change in relationship with the Father God as well.  Jesus invites the disciples into a new, open dialogue directly with God and says, in that way, "your joy will be complete."  Restored relationship with God is the completion, the finishing touch, the fortification of our joy that makes it impenetrable.  No one can take away what comes from God himself!

So I find myself wondering, when I have lost touch with joy in my life, have I really lost touch with God?  Have I stopped anticipating that He is active in my life?  Have I let my circumstances cloud my judgement?  Most importantly, have I neglected to ask him about what I need?  Maybe I have been firing off a list of demands without taking time for a real conversation with God.  Maybe I'm angry or ashamed and so I've avoided talking to God.  Or perhaps I have become so weary that I am afraid God won't listen.  Regardless of how we feel or how long it has been, the invitation is clear and open, "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."

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