Occupied with joy. That is the promise of God. The troubles and trials of this mortal life, the ups and downs of the day, the riches and loss of things and experiences all will pass away. But the gift of God will not. We are distracted from them by joy, living in anticipation of that which is promised though not here yet (at least not in its fullness or consummation).
Joy is what is so often missing from the hearts of God's people and it is what we ought to have to offer the world. So if we do not have it, we have nothing to offer those around us. But if we have joy in the Lord, we have everything and we have something to offer a world so in need of joy, in want of hope, and in search of peace. If there is one thing I want for myself and for all the faithful, it is to know this joy. If there is anything I struggle with and, I suspect, the faithful as well, it is to know this joy. The fruit of the Spirit is joy, at least among other fruits of the Spirit, but this one seems to be in shorter supply than God desires and we need.
The moments of my greater joy are those on Sunday morning in the Divine Service. There, more than any other place, this joy seems easier to know but it remains hard, at least sometimes, to carry this joy with me out the door. The truth is a live for Sunday morning. It is what I am thinking about in the restless hours of the morning on the Lord's Day. It is not that I long simply for something for me but for the wonderful experience of a people gathered together in the same place to be served by the Lord with His gifts and grace and then to be a part of it all. Maybe a part of this is the music -- the joyful song of a people who at last have something to sing about. Yes, I am sure it is. But it is less about the aesthetic of the music than it is the cause for poet to pen and musician to compose. It is not a curiosity but a mystery -- a grand mystery, THE grand mystery of the cross, of the Savior who loved us enough to suffer and die and of the life strong enough to rise from the earth with power to raise all the dead.
Hearing the Word of the Lord is not listening to a story or wisdom but hearing the voice of God, calling to you by name -- to ME by name -- and addressing us with a word that forgives the guilty, restores righteousness to the sinner, and gives life to the dead. It is this focus that gives to the present what we need to make our way through the twists and turns of this mortal life, its ups and downs, its sorrows and its happiness. Apart from this holy joy, it is not simply that we will not be raised to life everlasting and have only this life. No, without this holy joy we are left simply to the roller coaster of our emotions, to the random chances of what is and what might have been, and to the thief of time that prolongs our misery and makes too brief our happiness.
Maybe it is enough for some to be content with this but once having known the hope that is within us, it cannot satisfy me any longer. I need to be rescued from the consuming joys of the moment that are not truly mine and redeemed from the desperate moments when I am drowning in guilt, shame, despair, and grief. With this joy beyond my control, I must depend upon another and cannot possibly burden those nearest to me with the yoke of my own emptiness. It must be God. It must be His joy that keeps me occupied in the mountains and valleys. And that is His gift. It frames the moment and it is the door to eternity. And its surprise is carried in the womb of the Virgin, born to the song of angels, lived in righteousness without fear, surrendered willingly into suffering, died alone upon the cross to never be alone, and risen so that I might be raised. It is felt in the splash of water, the voice of the Good Shepherd, and the taste of bread and wine His body and blood. God keeps us occupied with joy in the ordinary of our mortal lives, in the darkest of our days, and in their best moments. “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).