“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor … to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1, 3)
What can transform despair, mourning, sackcloth, and weeping into light, gladness, honor, and joy? Who brings about changes like this—in a city, in a life, in a home, in a heart? Only God.
Joy is the flavor of Christianity, a banner proclaiming God’s presence in our lives. The psalmist says to God, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). We see this joy proclaimed again in the message of the angel: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). As Jesus began His ministry, He read the joyful news of Isaiah 61, then concluded with this phrase: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The brokenhearted, the disheartened, and the faint of spirit would soon be able to discover true joy because of Him.
Yet many people do not have even an inkling that the trait of joyful celebration ought to mark the Christian experience. The Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote in his journal, “I have been to Church to-day, and am not depressed.”1 It was evidently of note to him that he finally got through a service without going, “Oh man, that was brutal!” Sadly, many in our contemporary culture share his sentiment.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes in his book Spiritual Depression, “In a world where everything has gone so sadly astray, we should be standing out as men and women apart, people characterized by a fundamental joy and certainty in spite of conditions, in spite of adversity.”2
Will we be a people that are marked by the true joy that comes from the presence of God? Will we reject a superficial glibness that says everything is great when it isn’t, instead embracing the deep-seated conviction that even through the tears, the pain, the loss, when we think all options are done and there is no chance left, there is a joy that is unspeakable, and it’s full of God?
The rejoicing of God’s people ought to exceed the rejoicing of any other people throughout history. The impact of joyful celebration can be far-reaching. As we love God and others with that kind of joy, those around us may just discover that there is hope through their despair, that there is light in their darkness—and His name is Jesus.