Saturday, January 8, 2022

Occupied with joy. . .

Some months ago the end of the Old Testament reading from Ecclesiastes kept sticking in my mind and I cannot seem to forget it.  Ecclesiastes is the call of the vanity preacher against those whose hearts are consumed by things.  In the end, says the preacher, all will be lost -- forgotten because something more important took its place.  Joy.  The preacher says, because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

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).


gamarquart said...

In order for Lutherans to enjoy the fullness of joy, we will first have to agree that some of our inerrant idols have been dead wrong.
Dr. Martin Luther, First of the 95 Theses, “1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.”
Those whose eyes are veiled, preventing them from seeing the pure Gospel, eagerly support this Thesis, not realizing that the blessed Luther wrote it before he, himself, began to understand the joy of the Gospel.
We also piously quote Johann Gerhard, “The very foundation and principle of a holy life is godly sorrow for sin.” If that were true, there would be no place for joy in the life of the Christian.
Just as the people of Israel longed for the fleshpots of Egypt, so the souls, even of Christians, yearn for the Law. The Law is in accord with human nature; we can understand it; it tells us that we well be rewarded if we are good, and punished if we are bad. Therefore, many of our theologians unintentionally dilute the Gospels with the demands of the Law, essentially emptying the Gospel of its inherent joy.
People are, by their nature, incapable of understanding the Gospel. The Gospel proclaims that the person, who is bad, is loved, forgiven, nurtured and redeemed by God. In order to enable people to understand this essence of the Gospel, in Baptism, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, comes to dwell in us in order to convert our natures, so that we can understand and believe which the nature with which we are born cannot understand or believe. This Holy Spirit is God’s “earnest money,” by which He guarantees the gift of His love and nurture to us for eternity. He accompanies every Christian from the Baptismal font until that person enters into God’s heavenly Kingdom.
When, through the Holy Spirit, we understand that God, through the life, suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, the Christ, has made us, who were His enemies, His beloved children, and that we need not worry about where we will spend eternity, because God has guaranteed our eternal future through the blood of His Son, then we become capable of receiving the great gift of the Holy Spirit: Joy.
Much after Luther wrote his 95 Thesis, he is quoted as saying, “If I could believe that God was not angry with me, I would stand on my head for joy.” This is most certainly true.
As we wonder what we need to do in order to make our Church flourish again, there is really only one answer: Rejoice in the Lord, and praise Him for His priceless gift to you. Once, through the Holy Spirit, you realize that your own presence in God’s Kingdom is not dependent on anything you do, but on God’s guarantee, which he sealed with the blood of His own Son, you will be able do more than move mountains: you will be able to bring others into the Kingdom of God through the power of God Himself, the Gospel.
This is why I sign off with:
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Janis Williams said... take or fill up (space, time, etc.): engage or employ the mind, energy, or attention of be a resident or tenant of; dwell in

Amen to the sadness that fills me when I must leave the sanctuary after Divine Service, knowing I cannot maintain that joy (of course, God can).

According to the definition above, Joy is something that fills us, and we are told to be full of joy in Scripture. Our minds and attention should be taken up by our focus on Joy. We are to live IN Joy. If we are occupied with Joy, (and this is the Spririt’s work in us, yes, but we should make the attempt to have and be that Holy Joy), it should show in lives lived so. I would dearly love to be a fly on the wall and hear someone recommend my life as an example of Joy.

If only by the help of the Spirit I can focus on my Savior, whose life, and yes, even death was in Joy. It was all through the Joy set before Him he endured life with sinful humanity, then died in our place. Hebrews 12:2

Timothy Carter said...

Wonderful blog, Pastor.
Sunday morning Liturgy is indeed the high point of my week.
Granted, I am pretty much isolated during the week but the Liturgy with Preaching the entire Bible through the 3-Year Lectionary and the Church Year, singing the doctrinal-based hymns, Confessing and receiving Absolution and Communion and "Remembering my Baptism" do bring Joy and Peace.
As does you Blog. Keep up the Good Work.
Joy is indeed in short supply in our world and we need to be reminded of the source of Peace and Joy: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit...through the Means of Grace...mainly within the Liturgy, Catechism and Confessions.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon. Kingsport TN.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

Larry: one of your best!