READINGS: 3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
In the first reading of this 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nehemiah told the people, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!” because “This day is holy to our Lord” (Nehemiah 8:9-10). Yes, every day, every hour, every minute, every second of our lives is holy to our God and so we must rejoice in the Lord.
Sad to say, many a time, we tend to disassociate joy and gladness from holiness; from religion and church. We tend to think of religion the way we think of healthy food—it may not taste good but it is good for you, so endure it. We are more likely to associate joy and gladness with an evening at the local pub than with a morning in the church. Yet, Scripture says that “In the presence of God is the fullness of joy; at His right hand, happiness forever”.
Nehemiah’s exultation came as a result of the people weeping and crying, in repentance for their sins, after hearing the Word of God read to them from dawn to noon by Ezra and the Scribes. So, Nehemiah urged them not to mourn or weep on that day, but rather to enjoy and to rejoice for “The joy of the Lord must be their strength”.
Joy, here, is not the joy of natural temperament. Yes, many people are by nature disposed to be bouncy “Tiggers” but how about those who are more disposed to be glum “Eeyores” (Remember the pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, anhedonia, old grey stuffed donkey in the “Winnie the Pooh” stories). This joy is not the joy that comes from experiencing happy circumstances, e.g. winning the lottery, getting a promotion, going on a fun trip, or enjoying some good health. Rather, the Joy of the Lord comes from a settled conviction that God is in charge; that He is on the throne; that He is faithful to His Word; and that He cares about me, no matter what. We find this kind of joy expressed in Habakkuk 3:17-19 “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength”
So, the joy of the Lord comes from knowing that no matter what comes my way - whether it's personal or family hardship, the routine ups and downs of life, a failing health or weaning finances, that I have, through it all, a God whose strength is overwhelmingly limitless. It is the joy that comes from knowing that God is more than able to provide me with everything I need if only I will trust in Him and believe that He will do it. It is the joy that comes from trusting that God’s grace and strength is sufficient for me in everything. Nehemiah encouraged the people to remember that the power of God is greater than those that threatened them, and, as the apostle Paul puts it, God is greater than what we can offer. It is the joy that comes from knowing and trusting that God’s power is stronger than that which can come against me. It is the joy that comes from recognizing that God is with me in all things and by witnessing to others His gracious provisions in my life. It is the joy that comes from appreciating the righteousness that God confers on me, a repentant believer, and the pledge of His covenantal love for me, for all eternity. It is the joy that comes from being able to be part of what builds up the body of Christ by devoting a significant amount of my time to communal worship, bible study, and encouraging and sharing godly fellowship with others.
Rejoicing in the Lord is lifestyle! It gives us the strength to face life’s challenges by helping us focus on God instead of our fears. It allows us to put God first in our lives, to be immersed in the things of God, and to love God above all things. The joy of the Lord is the beginning of our peace with the Lord. Let us go ahead and infect ourselves with the joy of the Lord and we will see our lives change for the better.