“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.” (1 Peter 1:8)
Over this coming week, many of us will be singing carols. In our churches, on the street, at a child’s nativity play, in a shopping centre, at a concert. With great enthusiasm (or not!) we’ll sing lyrics such as ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come!’ and ‘O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant’ and ‘Joyful, all ye nations rise.’
But is it true? I’m not referring, of course, to Jesus coming into the world. I mean as I sing those words, do they ring true in my personal experience? If I’m proclaiming ‘joy to the world’ in song, am I singing from a heart that knows this joy as a present reality?
It’s an important question. Because people in the world are unlikely to take the gospel seriously unless they witness God’s people living it out in tangible ways. So they won’t believe the joy we sing about, unless they see a joyful authenticity about our daily lives.
Peter describes the Christian life as believing in Jesus Christ and being “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” Now joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness tends to depend on our circumstances, or our physical well-being, or our mood, or how we’re feeling.
But true Christian joy is something quite different. Different because it isn’t dependent on what’s going on in our lives. Two verses earlier Peter writes, “you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (verse 6). Christian joy, then, can be experienced in the midst of various kinds of suffering, trouble and difficulty.
We don’t rejoice in the trials, of course, as if we’re taking a masochistic sense of pleasure in suffering and pain. No, we rejoice in the Lord as we suffer. Why? Well, because God is good and because he’s sovereign and because he cares for us. And because he’s using our trials to ensure that our faith “may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (verse 7).
In the busyness of the coming week, why not take time to ask yourself this question: Will my neighbours, colleagues, family, friends and the people that serve me in the shops see evidence of my joy? And what about on Christmas Day, sat around the dinner table with my loved ones – will they see me at my joy-filled best or will I exude an air of being grumpy and stressed?
If your answer to the evidence of joy question is ‘probably not’, or ‘I’m not sure’, or ‘I don’t know’, or ‘not as much as they ought to’ then here’s a suggestion. Why not pray and ask God for a gift? Ask him to fill you afresh with the “inexpressible and glorious joy” that comes through believing in Jesus Christ. Then ‘joy to the world’ will become just a little bit more of a reality in your personal sphere of influence this Christmas.