The Year of Joy

 
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One of my favorite 2018 films was "Christopher Robin," a sequel to Disney's Winnie the Pooh stories. Christopher Robin has grown up into Mr. Robin, an anxious, dour businessman. After returning to the Hundred Acre Woods, he stumbles upon his old friends hiding from Heffalumps (imaginary elephant monsters). The animals don't believe this stressed-out grump is Christopher Robin. They're too scared to stop hiding or trust this man. Thinking quickly, Christopher grabs Eeyore the donkey and runs a small distance. He starts to make believe, yelling at Heffalumps and challenging them to fight. As he continues, he grows more descriptive and boisterous. He laughs and shouts while punching and kicking the air. Slowly, Eeyore's eyes light up. The donkey murmurs, "Christopher Robin." The other animals, hearing the "battle," also recognize his voice. And in their delight, they find the courage to run out and fight the Heffalumps alongside Christopher. Victorious, the animals and Christopher celebrate their reunion (if I've lost you, google Winnie the Pooh or imagination).

The animals couldn't recognize Christopher when he was the most responsible, productive, or mature. They only recognized him when he started enjoying his play fight with the Heffalumps, when he let himself be silly and dumb for the sake of his friends. Mr. Robin became Christopher when he did what he most loved. The beauty of this scene is its simple truth: We are the most real versions of ourselves when we are the happiest in Christ. We are the best versions of ourselves when we share our joy with others.

And [Zechariah]asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John"… And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors… and [John the Baptist's] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied (Luke 1:63-67)

In Luke 1, God encounters an elderly priest Zechariah. He informs Zechariah that in answer to their prayers and righteous lives, his wife Elizabeth would conceive a child, who will be named John (the Baptist). Zechariah doubts God. “How can old people have a baby?” God then silences Zechariah until the day John is born. Meanwhile, Elizabeth gets pregnant as promised and gives birth to a son. Their neighbors gather and ask Zechariah what his son's name will be. Unable to speak, he writes, "His name is John." Instantly, Zechariah regains speech, worshiping the Lord as the Holy Spirit fills him.

Zechariah is restored as he finds joy in God’s fulfilled promise. He goes from mute to prophetic as the Holy Spirit fills him with praise. God transforms him from doubtful priest into exuberant prophet. True joy is a supernatural gift. It provides strength to endure. It sweetens our intimacy with Jesus. It propels us to fulfill God’s will. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit - it cannot be manufactured. But joy can be deepened. And for many of us, as we begin this new year, we would greatly benefit ourselves, our churches, and our communities if we learned to nurture Christ-centered, life-changing joy.

So how do we cultivate godly joy? I believe this passage highlights two things:

Joy is Rooted in Obedience

Zechariah regained his voice only when he obeyed God by naming his son John. The small things matter to God. Our obedience in daily decisions and ordinary moments creates space for the Holy Spirit to fill and to direct us. Objectively, what difference does it make what John’s name was? Yet, to God, it mattered. It mattered so much that the choice facilitated the restoration of Zechariah.

Furthermore, John was God’s answer to Zechariah’s earnest prayers and lifetime of obedience. The Lord honored his servant’s many years of righteousness and faithfulness. So many of us live selfishly and compromise godliness because we don't perceive God's presence and purpose in our lives. So many of us are too easily satisfied with a few big moments of great faith, only to let daily disciplines and commitments slip away. But in Zechariah's case, it was not just one act of obedience that moved God. It was a lifetime of ordinary obedience. It was a lifetime of prayer, fasting, tithing, and study. The fruit of his faithfulness? The miraculous birth of John and the joy of fatherhood and fulfillment of God’s promise.

Joy is Rooted in Serving Others

Not only is joy the product of our personal commitment to Christ, but it also serves to bless and build the Church. Christopher Robin’s laughter inspired Piglett, Tigger, and others to come out of their hiding spot and confront their fears. Zechariah's praises and blessings inspired his neighbors to fear the Lord. As he worshiped God, he prophesied to the people around him about God’s coming Messiah and salvation. In these cases, joy was the vehicle of inspiration, courage, and vision for the community. Joy sweetens life in all circumstances. It anchors us in God’s purpose, giving us context and perspective to persevere through suffering and discipline. With believers, we share our delight and build camaraderie in our ministries and workplaces. The transcendence of godly joy can act as a starting point for non-believers to ask us what we live for. When we are joyful in Christ, we are at our most effective to point others towards Jesus. As we are transformed by joy, God uses us to transform and restore others.

Joyful contentment in God is both His reward for a life of obedience and the most beautiful gift we give to others. It acts as the means towards Christ and the end result of being with Christ. Joy lets us be who we truly are for the sake of others. As 2019 begins, how can you cultivate joy in your life? How can you obey Jesus in your personal and professional lives? How can you serve others and love your community? Whether it be meditating on the Word daily, praying for your co-workers more frequently, or supporting missions and compassion projects consistently, let us resolve this year to delight ourselves in the Lord! Let us resolve to help others enjoy Jesus as Savior and Lord! Let this be our year of joy.

Daniel Lee has a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Northwestern University and is currently a dental student at UCLA School of Dentistry. Daniel lives in Westwood, CA and loves what-if scenarios.


 
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