1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
How Jesus Felt
One thing great about Christmas is that there’s an atmosphere of joy, and I think that’s why I like Christmas. Whenever Christmas time comes, there is a feeling of joy. There’s a lot of parties, lots of laughter, and lots of giving and receiving gifts, especially receiving gifts are good. All of these things, create joy in our lives. The birth of Jesus Christ brought joy to us, I think so. It is the right way of celebrating Christmas, celebrating with joy, with lots of joy. Life is supposed to be enjoyed, there is supposed to be joy in life. If there is no joy in life, what is the purpose of living? If there is no joy of salvation then what kind of salvation is that? Salvation is very much connected with the joy and Jesus Christ was born to restore that joy. A lot of people don’t live with joy, so Jesus Christ came to restore that joy in us and he lived his life that way.
That’s how he lived, he lived a very, very joyful life. He loved parties, when you read the scripture very carefully, he really loved parties. He met with all kinds of people and he enjoyed his life. He enjoyed every moment of his life so much that the people who were jealous of Jesus said, “Oh Jesus, he is drunker. He’s a glutton” Since they were jealous, they could not enjoy their lives as Jesus did. Jesus had fights with all kinds of people, even with the senators, but had a great time, that’s how he lived. We kind of have a skewed image of Jesus. We think of Jesus as always being serious, calm and in a lot of pain and suffering. A lot of artists actually painted Jesus or the image of Jesus in this way and rightly so, that is a true aspect of Jesus; Jesus who suffered, Jesus in agony. Jesus went through a lot of pain and those artists were right in picturing Jesus in that way.
The prophet Isaiah pictured Jesus in the same way and in Isaiah chapter 53 verse 3, he said, “He was despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.” This is what Isaiah foretold about Jesus. So the image that we are familiar with is a very much a picture of Jesus in agony. But you know, that man of sorrow also said this, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be new and that your joy, may be complete.” That man of sorrows said, “I have lots of joy, so I give that joy to you so that your joy may be complete or your life may be complete.” Life without joy is not complete, life with joy is a complete life. He had joy, he was a man of joy, he was filled with joy. So since seeing Jesus in this way, I realized that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive. I realized that joy and sorrow co-exist and listening to Jesus, he was a man of sorrows, but he also said, “I am the joy.” So within Jesus, joy, and sorrow co-existed somehow.
Emotions we Feel
Why would you go through life’s pain and hardships and suffering? You can still have joy, anger, disappointment, sadness, fear, anxiety and frustration. These are what we go through every day. No one is immune from this experience, every day we all go through this. But this does not mean that you cannot experience joy. So I reflected on how is it possible, how can you have suffering on the one hand and joy on the other hand, in the same person, in the same life? How Is it possible that you can have both in you?
This is what I realized, that there are different levels of emotions and experiences, I realized not all of the emotions are on the same level. Anger, disappointment, sadness, and frustrations are at one level of emotion or experience, but the joy is at another level, a deeper level of emotion or experience. At this experience, our emotion of joy is not triggered by what you’re going through or what you’re experiencing. Let me put it in this way to make the understanding easier. When you see the ocean, there is water on the surface and when the wind blows and the storm comes out, the water at the surface reacts violently. But 100 meters down below, the same ocean water does not really act violently, it is relatively calm when the winds blow and the storm hits the water. It is the same water, the only difference is the different level.
Joy is the same emotion that we experience, but It is at a different level. It is still our emotion, but it is at a different level. That’s why St. Paul said “rejoice always”, because it’s at the superficial level, you can never rejoice always. You will always react to the situation you are involved with and to what you experience. This joy will never be always and I realized because its down below that is possible, rejoice always. Having joy and the deeper level of our existence is crucial for us to have a meaningful life. Life without joy cannot be called real life. Life is more than duties and responsibilities, life it has to be filled with joy. There has to be joy in life; the joy of pleasure, the joy of eating, the joy of meeting friends, joy of reading, joy of entertainment, the joy of serving, joy of doing meaningful things, joy of learning, joy of praying, the joy of worship, and joy of singing. There has to be joy in whatever we do, we need to enjoy it. But the thing is, when there is no joy at the deeper level of your existence, eating itself cannot give you joy.
Entertainment itself cannot give you joy, so when you have something that you enjoy so much such as food or travel or whatever you should be thankful that you can do that. There are some people who have nothing to really enjoy their lives They eat just to survive, they watch TV because there’s nothing to do. They go to work, but they don’t seem to enjoy being there. They come to church out of responsibility. The bigger the joy you have at the root of your soul, the more you can enjoy your life. It is not the travel itself that gives joy when there is joy at the deeper level of your experience, you can enjoy the travel so much. It is not the life circumstances that give you joy, but when there is joy at the deeper level of your existence, you can enjoy every moment of your life. Every simple thing that you do, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to enjoy your life and to experience joy. In the simplest things, you can find joy. The people who are filled with the joy that walk around and see the flowers, they can enjoy it. They hear birds singing and they can appreciate and enjoy their lives, every single moment of their lives and every single thing they see around them when it is a joy at the deeper level of your existence. Then how do you get the joy at the deeper level of your existence? How do you get that? I realized that whatever you experience in your lives, whether it’s a fun party or travel, eating or whatever, I realized that they cannot enter deeper into my soul. It affects me at the superficial level, at the water level, but it cannot penetrate into the deeper level. So for a while, we enjoy it, but it cannot, it just remains at the surface level, it cannot enter deeper into our soul, into the deeper level of our existence. This joy at the root of our soul is only possible when your deepest desire is satisfied, then we can have joy there.
Satisfying the Desire
Only God can satisfy that deepest desire within you. When that deepest desire within you is not satisfied, joy is not possible. Only God can satisfy your soul, only God can satisfy that deepest desire that you had, only God can penetrate beyond through the surface into the depth of our soul and satisfies it and then joy is created. Life can be cruel, sometimes waking up in the morning is a chore. You start the day with gloominess or anxiety and worries, sometimes keeping a happy face is hard. But still, we can smile because my deepest desire is satisfied by God. Day-by-day, we need to come to God with our deepest desires, saying “Lord, this is not something that can be satisfied by what I do, only you can satisfy this.” We need to come to God with that desire. I heard somewhere “In everybody’s life, some rain will fall and what we remain after the rain depends on how well we dance through the rain.” Rain will fall on us someday, but what remains is whether we can dance through the rain, singing in the rain.
This is what St. Paul said, “rejoice in the Lord always, do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with Thanksgiving, let your request be known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is an elaboration, rejoice always because the “peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds”, that’s why we can rejoice always. You can experience all kinds of things, but peace of God, which is beyond our understanding will guard my thinking, my heart, and mind. That’s why we can rejoice always. Present your request and your desire to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, and that peace dances at his joy. So joy and peace are the same things and when the peace within us starts dancing, that is the joy. This joy is the power to go through hardships and difficulties.
Last week I saw a good movie called “Of Gods and Men.” It was about monks in Algeria. In the last scene just before they were all killed, they had two bottles of wine and then from the mom’s cabinet, they got together and shared wine and bread. In the beginning, they’re smiling and then it slowly becomes very serious and then you see tears. But I saw peace there and that peace gives them the assurance and confidence in life. Even in persecution, that peace gives us joy.
That is confidence in life. Through this Christmas season, choose not the superficial joy that you entertain yourself with, but I hope all of you may be filled with joy that Jesus Christ brought to us.