Humans are longing for and seeking joy. Many advertisements focus on joy. There is “Joy Assisted Living,” “Digital Joy,” the “Joy of Travel.” While humans are hungry for joy, life is often devoid of it.
The political, economic, and social situation in this world and the burdens of life can eclipse joy in our lives. Hunger and homelessness are rampant in many parts of the world. Pandemics, natural disasters, and global climate change threaten us. How can people rejoice?
Our own burdens can also rob us of joy: illnesses, financial problems, challenges at the workplace or in marriage and family, lack of the meaning of life, extreme loneliness despite social media, our own inadequacies, and indifferent and violent behavior of others.
Where is the joy of Christian life when everything and everyone seems to eclipse it?
I. JOY IN THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
The Gospel of Luke is the Gospel of joy: joy is found repeatedly in Christ’s birth narrative (e.g., Luke 1:47; 2:10). Even when Christians are suffering for Christ’s sake, they can rejoice because their “reward is great in heaven” (6:22–23).1 The seventy disciples should rejoice that their names were recorded in heaven. Jesus Himself rejoiced (10:20– 21). People rejoice over the glorious things done by Jesus (13:17). Joy is expressed six times in Luke 15 when the lost are found again. Zacchaeus rejoices that Jesus wants to come to his home, and the crowd of His disciples rejoices during Jesus’ triumphal entry (19:6, 37). Finally, Christ’s followers are filled with joy when they encounter the resurrected Christ. After His ascension they return “to Jerusalem with great joy” (24:41, 52).
A. Joy in Jesus’ Birth Narrative
Luke opens Jesus’ birth narrative with the birth of John the Baptist. Serving in the temple, Zacharias was told of the birth of his son: “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth” (1:14, emphasis added). Why? John would be filled with the Holy Spirit and would bring about reformation. Best of all, John would prepare the way for Jesus.
Mary was told she would have a child by supernatural conception, the Son of God. While she was at Elizabeth’s place, the baby to be born, in Elizabeth's womb, leaped for joy, because the child with whom Mary was pregnant was the Lord. Elizabeth’s expression of joy sparked Mary’s hymn of joy in which joy and salvation are connected. We rejoice because salvation has come through Jesus.
Later an angel appeared to the shepherds, telling them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy . . . there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:10–11, NAU, emphasis added). All the people of Luke’s birth narrative had to bear their burdens. But they rejoiced.
B. The Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55)
Mary’s song of joy contains features that may help us today when we struggle with difficult situations and may tend to fall in depression or despair. Mary’s lot would not be easy. Her question to Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (1:34), indicates that she was not ignorant of biology. She may also have envisioned problems with Joseph, her fiancé, and her own reputation. She would be an outcast of society. People must have assumed that she got pregnant out of wedlock. Jesus was later told, “We were not born of fornication” (John 8:41, NAU), implying, “But you were.” But Mary accepted the privilege of being Jesus’ mother, along with the serious downsides as well.
This means we can react to the same situation differently: acceptance or rejection. Mary rejoiced in God. The secret of her joy is found in her faith in God. This is the crucial point: trust in the Lord leads to joy. Mary gives two reasons for exalting God and rejoicing: First, God has been gracious to her in her lowliness. Second, God has done great things for her and those fearing Him.
C. Jesus’ Parables in Luke 15
In Luke 15 Jesus does not play by the rules of the Pharisees. He mingles with people they would shun and call “sinners.” Jesus tells them three parables.
In the first parable a sheep is lost. The sheep needs to be sought and helped home. Although the shepherd still has ninety-nine sheep, he seeks the lost, the “sinner,” and finds it. There is joy in heaven when the sinner is found.
In the second parable a woman loses one of ten coins and searches until she has found it. When it is found there is joy by the angels, not by the Pharisees.
Finally, a father with two sons loses one son who walks away and squanders all his inheritance, finding himself in a dehumanizing situation. Remembering his father, he returns home repentantly and is received by his father with open arms. But the older brother, representing the Pharisees, gets lost at home. He does not participate in the joyful celebration of his brother’s return. So, the father leaves the feast and invites him to join.
One message of the parables is: salvation is more important than all earthly endeavors. If you are not saved, you are not at home; and if you are not at home there is no real joy. A second message is: Jesus is in the business of saving people. In some cases, He takes the initiative; in others He waits so that people come to their senses and repent. The result is joy by the one who was searching, joy in heaven, and joy of the person who has been saved.
In addition, the concept of rejoicing with someone else occurs. The shepherd and the woman called friends to rejoice with them. Rejoicing with someone else enhances our own joy.
II. JOY FOR US
In a time of distress and challenge to biblical teachings, of consumerism, relativism, and extreme individualism, of maneuvering for power and status, of social media encroaching on our time with God, of the collapse of moral values, and of our struggle with our own limitations, we remember the great joy described in Luke’s Gospel!
Max Lucado distinguishes contingent joy from courageous joy:
m courageous joy: Contingent joy says . . . I’ll be happy when I have a new house or a new spouse . . . when I’m healed or when I’m home. Contingent joy depends upon the right circumstance. Since we cannot control every circumstance, we set ourselves up for disappointment. . . . Contingent joy turns us into wounded people. . . . Courageous joy sets the hope of the heart on Jesus and Jesus alone. Since no one can take your Christ, no one can take your joy.2
Jesus lived among us, is with us, and cares for us. He saves us, forgives our sins, and builds His kingdom in all the mess that surrounds us. He has His faithful people in bleak times, the Zachariases and Elizabeths, Marys and Josephs, the shepherds, and hopefully you and me, people who rejoice and rejoice with others.
So, do not allow your joy to be eclipsed! Trust the Lord and “greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8, NAU). Do not focus on evil and problems; focus on the Lord of your salvation. This does not deny that we may need to seek help from fellow humans in certain situations. But there is good news of great joy! We are invited to meet the Messiah. Rejoice!
1 All biblical quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise indicated.
2 Max Lucado, “Contagious Joy“ (February 2016), accessed February 3, 2023, https://maxlucado.com/ contagious-joy/.
Ekkehardt Mueller, ThD, DMin, is a retired associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, USA.