“Joy to the world” is an upbeat song, but how, exactly, is joy to the world possible? Do we, like the song suggests, have to wait until Jesus returns at some time in the future? Or is joy possible now?
And what kind of joy are we talking about too? Is it optimism, “looking on the bright side of life,” thinking positive thoughts, being with friends having a good laugh together, watching comedians and funny movies, or being moved by Disney Christmas movies?
Joy is defined as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness,” but what in this world creates such a feeling? And is joy just a burst of happiness once in a while, or can it be long lasting and even a permanent part of our nature and outlook on life?
In searching for a decent answer it’s nice to know that Jesus offered a clue or two on the subject when he said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” in John 15:11. Whatever he said, then, has the power to create joy, and the same joy he experienced as a human too. He dropped the same clue in John 17:13 as well: “I say these things, so that they they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” And he meant in this life now, not having to wait until a future life.
And even when faced with having to die a horrible death on the cross his joy wasn’t shaken (Hebrews 12:2), so there’s a depth to the joy Jesus personally experienced – and offers to us too – that can survive the worst nightmares we face or imagine.
But how on earth is that possible in a world like ours that has us constantly living in fear and trepidation as to what we’ll be hit with next, financially, weather-wise, or pandemic? And if we have children and grandchildren, it’s difficult feeling joy knowing what they might be facing when they’re our age.
Fortunately, Peter wades in on these disturbing thoughts too, when he writes in I Peter 1:6, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” So Peter accepts that life can be hell at times, with hits coming from all sorts of directions, but we can still “greatly rejoice.” Really? How?
Well, from what Peter also writes, it sounds like joy is a journey. “Greatly rejoicing” comes with growing realization. It starts in verse 3 with the realization that we have an amazing Father God who opened up a whole new life and hope to us in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, because Jesus is now able to live his life in us (John 17:26), and we get to feel and experience it every day too.
That then leads to the next step on our journey to joy – in the realization that we have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you,” verse 4, because, verse 5, we “are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” So the resurrected Jesus has secured our future as well.
In the meantime our trust will be tested, yes, but the “result,” verse 7, will be “praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” So even suffering and stretching our faith ’til it feels like it will snap translates into joy – as Jesus makes his shielding power real to us in our present worries and trials.
Hopefully it dawns on us, then, that both our present day living and our eternal future are totally safe in the resurrected Jesus’ care, because those two steps are meant to happen and become real to us on our journey to joy.
And as they become real to us, so does Jesus, which brings us to the third step on our journey to joy, described by Peter in verse 8. And it’s here that we grasp the real and only source of true joy: it’s a person. It’s Jesus, and the realization of how much he loves us – today and for all eternity. And with that realization, verse 8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” And why is that? Because, verse 9, “you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of (your) souls.”
We are literally experiencing (and in full too) what we believe and trust in Jesus for, which is the totally new birth and new life that our Father opened up to us in resurrecting Jesus from the dead. It becomes so real in our everyday experience that it makes the future look very bright indeed. And what greater source of joy can there be than that, especially when we realize that journey never ends too.