This morning in church as I looked out over the congregation singing “Joy to the World”, I was struck by the number of people who are in very hard places. Many have lost loved ones this past year, some very recently, and many others are caring for very ill family members or are battling serious illness themselves. I was moved at their faithfulness to keep showing up even when staying home would be so much easier, and mindful of those who would have loved to be with us but aren’t able to and the grief that brings. I felt the heaviness of it, but there was something else, something beautiful as well that I couldn’t quite identify.
As the Candle of Joy was lit, I knew there was something God wanted to teach me about joy. And the lesson begins, oddly enough, with suffering.
The message this morning was taken from Psalm 126 and opens with a beautiful declaration of joy by people who had experienced the rich blessings of God and whose “mouths were filled with laughter” and “tongues with songs of joy”. (v2) But it wasn’t just a person who was declaring…it was the people of God returning to Zion, agreeing that “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (v3) Easy enough to understand, right? God does incredibly great things for his people, and they respond with joy!
Except the song takes a turn in the following verses that forces us to take a deeper look at joy, which seems to have less to do with what it feels like, and more what it….looks like.
I was reminded that joy isn’t a feeling that is exclusive to the happy, and the “blessed” as we typically think of those things. This passage is telling the story of a community who at one time had been brimming with dreams of the future and enjoyed laughter and singing, assured of God’s provision and presence with them as His own people.
But the story doesn’t end there…
5Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
Wait…..weren’t these the same people who had just been singing songs of joy because everything was just grand? And now they’re sowing tears like a sacred seed offering with full confidence the return will be plentiful and they’ll once again sing joyful songs?
Kinda turns joy on it’s head, right?
As I looked out over precious friends who brought their own sorrows into God’s house and sowed them in community with God’s people, I came a little closer to understanding joy in a deeper way. And I am very grateful.
I’m not going to pretend that lighting the Joy candle doesn’t also include sorrow for some, because for those with hurting hearts, it just does. I know it does mine. But this year, I’m leaning into Psalm 126 and finding joy in showing up and living life with others whose lives may also not be in a season of “everything is just grand”. And in that….in a way I can’t fully understand or express….there is great joy.
Jesus came for us, friends, not because we were doing just fine on our own, but because he knows without him we are lost. He understands our sorrows and he loves us so much he won’t for a second leave us. And I choose to sow my tears with the certainty that I am not alone and that God will redeem all that has been lost. And that’s a song of joy I can freely sing.
Hope, Peace and Joy,