Summary: We are called to be oaks of righteousness, for our joy is found in the Lord, not in our circumstances.
The song that some of us learned as children goes, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart, I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.” Another song proclaims, “There is joy in the Lord, there is love in His presence, there is hope in the promise of Him.” Joy can be described as delight or bliss, and these songs attribute joy to the Lord.
Two weeks ago, we lit the candle of Hope, and considered the words of Isaiah. He was crying out to God, pleading for Him to bring about change. He wanted God to tear open the heavens and come down to earth, causing the mountains to tremble and the earth to shake. The Israelites were in exile and desperately holding on to the hope that God would fix things.
Last week, we lit the candle of Peace, and once again considered the Israelite’s place in exile. Our scripture also came from the book of Isaiah, with Isaiah speaking on behalf of God, as God said, “Comfort, o comfort my people.” We shifted from Isaiah’s pleading that God intervene to God’s personal response of peace and comfort for the Israelite people.
This morning we lit the candle of joy, and are once again considering scripture from the book of Isaiah. This morning’s scripture has a certain bounce, a certain cadence, and a certain joyfulness. This is the good news of their deliverance. They are still in exile, but our scripture tells us that the Israelites has moved from the hope that God would fix things, to the promise of God’s peace, to the fact that God has now anointed someone to take action and relieve the situation through the proclamation of good news. There has been a steady progression in the relationship between the exiled Israelites and God, much as there has been a steady progression in our worship during this Advent Season.
This Season of Advent is all about waiting for the arrival of the Christ child, waiting for the one who will be our deliverer. The Israelites were also waiting for deliverance, and the author in this morning’s text makes reference to an anointed one who will deliver them, but in doing so, he uses the first person in describing the one who has been anointed…v 1. Is he speaking about himself or on behalf of someone else?
When we consider this text, we have the advantage of looking through the Christmas lens and seeing Jesus Christ as the anointed one, but Isaiah’s audience didn’t have that luxury. They were living 500 years before the birth of Christ, so where is the joy in these words written for an exiled people, who have no knowledge of Jesus Christ? Where is the joy in these words for us, who do have knowledge of Jesus Christ?
The joy in this passage is its promise that things will change…liberty for the captives, release for the prisoners, mourners will receive the oil of gladness and the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. We are being told specific details of how life is going to be different because of the anointed one who will bring good news.
There are times in our lives where we are desperate for good news. There are times in our lives where we wander if things are ever going to be different. Will the pain of grief ever lessen? Will the feelings of hurt and rejection ever subside? Will the enclosures of physical and emotional pain that imprison us ever be torn down? We wander if the promise of the good news from the anointed one is ever going to reach us.
But the promise of the good news has reached us. The reversal the Israelites sought in their circumstances and the reversal we seek in our circumstances may not always be delivered when we think it should or in the package we think it should, but the true reversal found in this good news is that there is joy in the Lord, and we must realize that this is joy and not happiness.
We many times will blur the line between joy and happiness. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances. Our circumstances determine whether we’re happy or sad. We can’t control how we feel. Some things make us happy. Some things make us sad. Family reunions, birthdays, and graduations are times of happiness, but if we’re grieving the death of a loved one or dealing with the loss of a job, we’d be sad. Circumstances determine happiness or sadness.
But joy is different. Joy is not tied to circumstances. Joy is a way of life. Joy is an attitude. Having joy in the Lord is what enables someone in the midst of tragedy to say, “My heart is breaking with sadness, but God is good and He is faithful.” It is the joy in our hearts that keeps us moving forward in the face of tragedy, because God has indeed anointed one to comfort all who mourn, to provide the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. We can remain joyful in all situations, whether they are happy or sad, because of the promise of the anointed one.