Friday, August 12, 2016
From where does your joy come?
It is surely true that while this world is generally not joyless, I believe we would all agree that the joys of this mortal life are neither sustained nor as full as we hope and desire. There are no lives immune from pain and suffering, no one who has not endured what he did not deserve as well as rightfully bearing the fruits of his own wrongful choices. In most joyful moments, we pray that this joy may extend even as in our most sorrowful moments we pray for them to pass quickly. Such is the nature of joy that comes either from our moods within or our circumstances in life.
For just as surely as the world may bestow joy, it may steal it away again. If our joy comes from the world, then the world controls us. What it gives, it can take away. This is the constant threat the world holds over us and we are kept in subjection by our addiction to joy that cannot be satisfied by the world but must be fed.
Our joy comes from the Lord. That is the promise of the Christian faith. It is a promise enfleshed of the Virgin by the Holy Spirit. It is not words that string us along (like the empty promises of the world) but the Word made flesh who dwelt among us full of grace, truth, and glory. Our joy comes from the Lord and because the Lord cannot change His mind or lie to us, it is the only joy that is certain.
Our joy comes from the Lord, from the dawn of the morning of love that shines its light unmistakably upon the cross where guilt and shame are removed and full and free forgiveness bestowed. Our joy comes from the Lord, from the waters of baptism that kill what was dead and give new life in Christ that death can no longer threaten or kill. Our joy comes from the Lord, from the blessed voice of the Good Shepherd who speaks to guide and whose staff protects us from predators without and wandering hearts within. Our joy comes from the Lord, from the food of His flesh for the life of the world and His blood that cleanses us from all sin (the bread of heaven that comes down from above and bestows what it signifies). Our joy comes from the Lord, from the grave whose sting is stolen and who must give up its claim upon the bodies our Lord has destined to be transformed like unto His own glorious body. Our joy comes from the Lord.
If our joy comes from the Lord and His Word endures forever, then sorrows cannot steal it, guilt cannot diminish it, disappointment cannot call it into question, and death cannot end it. This is why we come before the cross and look into the suffering that our Lord endured for us. His joy is in us; His joy in us enabled Him to drink the cup of suffering and to die the death that was ours to die. His joy is in us and our joy is in Him. It is this blessed truth that holds us in the firm grasp of joy while the world fails us and suffering haunts us and it is this joy that we grasp today to know it in full in everlasting life.
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Russian Orthodoxy can be and has been a joyless faith. But here is what one of their most respected pastors has to say on the subject: the diary of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, 12 October 1976:
“The origin of “false religion” is the inability to be joyful, or rather – the rejection of joy. Meanwhile joy is so absolutely important, because it is without doubt the fruit of knowing the presence of God. It is impossible to know that God is, and not to have joy. And it is only in connection with this joy that awe of God, contrition and humility are proper and genuine and bear fruit. Apart from this joy these can easily become “demonic”, a perversion at the base of the most religious experience itself. The religion of fear. The religion of false humility. The religion of guilt, which says, ‘This is all temptation, it is all spiritual “rapture.”’ But how strong is this religion, not only in the world but within the Church! And for some reason, ‘religious’ people are always suspicious of joy. The first, the most important, the source of everything is, ‘Let my soul rejoice in the Lord ….’ The fear of sin does not prevent one from sinning. Joy in the Lord does.”
Fr. Schmemann wrote this for himself. He did not have to be as precise as he might be if preaching a sermon. He fully knew the implication of what he wrote. So when he writes that the main source of joy, is “the fruit of knowing the presence of God,” is he not referring to the very presence of God in us in the person of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, Who produces His fruit in us, Galatians 5:22, “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Scripture and all the faithful preachers constantly remind us that everything good in us is a gift from God. Indeed, “we are beggars; this is true.” But we are joyful beggars, because, having nothing from ourselves, we have everything from our gracious God.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
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