Luther on Joy

Here are Martin Luther’s comments on joy

Joy means sweet thoughts of Christ, melodious hymns and psalms, praises and thanksgiving, with which Christians instruct, inspire, and refresh themselves. God does not like doubt and dejection. He hates dreary doctrine, gloomy and melancholy thought. God likes cheerful hearts. He did not send His Son to fill us with sadness, but to gladden our hearts. For this reason the prophets, apostles, and Christ Himself urge, yes, command us to rejoice and be glad. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee” (Zech. 9:9). In the Psalms we are repeatedly told to be “joyful in the Lord.” Paul says: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Christ says: “Rejoice, for your names are written in heaven.”
Martin Luther, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians

What Joy is Not

Joy, must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again…I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

There is a tendency in evangelicalism to equate joy with happiness. You hear sermons about how we need to be happy all of the time because we have Jesus. We need to smile when we’re singing because we are praising God (ironically, it’s kind of hard to smile while singing). In essence, we should be happy out of our freaking gourds all of the time because we’re Christians.

Taken in the best possible light, those preachers have a nugget of truth. Paul does commend contentment, saying we should be content no matter what situation we find ourselves in. But then again, contentment is not happiness. Not being anxious or worrisome isn’t the same as being happy.

Happiness comes and goes; it’s an emotion, and as such, is subject to our moods, circumstances, and the weather. When I’m lying in bed sick, I’m not particularly happy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have joy. It doesn’t mean I don’t rejoice in my Savior. I’m fairly sure Paul wasn’t smiling when he was floating around on a piece of wood in the middle of the Mediterranean (then again, maybe he was, but he doesn’t strike me as one of those smiling-all-the-time people).

The problem with the tendency to equate joy and happiness is that creates people who are artificially happy. People who put on happy masks and pretend that everything is all right with the world when in fact it is not. People who have maniacal grins on their faces all the time, giving praises to God when on the inside they’re weeping. We have to show the world how happy we are, don’t we? I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where?

This hypocritical happiness is not joy. It is not what we are commanded to do and has nothing to do with Advent. The joy of Advent is a joy intermingled with tears; a hope of light in the midst of darkness. A rare sweet when all tastes bitter.

The one who rejoices at Advent has not seen the fullness of what the Lord is going to do. He has seen a light from afar, but has not felt its complete glory. Yet the one who rejoices at Advent knows the Lord is coming with a strong arm. He knows the desert will soon rejoice and spring forth with life. He knows the mountain will be raised above all others, dwarfing even the greatest of man’s hills.

3rd Week of Advent: Joy

It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Isaiah 25:9

Undoubtedly, our response to the advent season should be one of joy. We should rejoice at the coming of the long promised Messiah. We must rejoice that the Savior of the world has come; the king of all creation has been born of a woman. As with Israel in the above passage, we sometimes find it hard to rejoice in the midst of all the pain and suffering of the world. How can we rejoice when there is so much darkness?

I hope it doesn’t sound like a trite answer, but we praise God during the Advent season because he has sent Light to conquer the darkness. He has sent us our salvation; and not only the salvation for our sins, but the redeemer of the world. We rejoice because the One who has conquered death has arrived. We rejoice because he who will wipe away all tears is here in the flesh. We rejoice because the time of our exile is at an end. We rejoice because of Immanuel, God with us.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.