I almost didn’t buy it. Half-buried in a tangle of costume jewelry, the pin sat in a dish by the cash register. “Your pick, $5” said the sign. “Junk,” I muttered — then looked again. Three rhinestone capitals winked a message: JOY!
Best $5 jewelry purchase ever.
I wear it every year—on my sweatshirts and turtlenecks, on silk scarves and lace dresses, on my Christmas morning pajamas—every day from the third Sunday of Advent through the octave of Christmas and frequently through Epiphany. It’s my way of not just proclaiming but taking Joy to the world, and I never tire of watching it work.
The effect of seeing “Joy”
People smile when they see it and point. Joy! they say. It nearly always starts a conversation. I’ve heard about girls named Joy who bring their friends and families joy. Joy brought by the Christmas holidays. Joy experienced in darkness. Sometimes strangers start singing as they pass me by. “Joy to the World!” (Sometimes they even dance a few steps. “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…”)
What is it about joy?
The dark side of joy
There’s a dark side to joy too, or maybe a dark background out of which it shines. “Count it all joy when you face various trials,” James wrote (1:2). Christian joy, we know at least in our heads, wells up from inside regardless of what’s happening outside. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, not something we manufacture. It’s like that “peace that passes understanding” that Jesus gives us (Philippians 4:7). His peace and joy come regardless of our situation, or maybe the trials give us reason to appreciate it.
I’ve written about that here before, about how I like my joy “straight up” but am learning to value it even more when I get it “on the rocks.” But still something doesn’t quite sit right. I find it too easy to read “joy” as something settled, something after-the-fact-of-the-problem.
The real meaning of joy
Recently I learned something awesome about joy that changes that. The Greek is chara: “joy, gladness.” Chara comes from the same root as charis, “grace,” and the two words are intimately linked. Properly speaking, chara means “the awareness of [God’s] grace, favor.” Joy means “grace recognized.”
I can totally count it joy when I face a trial if I recognize that God is there, with me in it, ready with his grace. That awareness and recognition connects me to God. It opens a channel from my heart to his hand which pours out grace. It allows him to fill me with his peace, and with the kind of joy that bubbles up through the muck of my life and transforms it.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! (Phil 4:4)
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fulness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:11)
May the Lord give you eyes to see his grace in your life. May he fill you with joy!
© 2017 Sarah Christmyer