Israel had been incredibly unfaithful to God. They had forgotten his commandments and his promises, but God never forgets. So God used men like Ezra and Nehemiah and even a king named Cyrus to give Israel another chance. They began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the temple within it. When they read the word of the law, all of the people wept. They saw the pain and suffering their own sin brought upon them.
But after the reading was completed, Nehemiah spoke to the nation. He said, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Despite all the reasons to be sad, Nehemiah promised that the joy God provides would strengthen the nation. Habakkuk said that even if everything good in his land should fail, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
What causes sadness and sorrow? The things that result from sin. Pain, death, separation, and fear.
What causes joy? Being in relationship with the author of light and life and love.
God’s joy is our strength, our fuel for living, our power for righteousness. Joy is part of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians 5.
The advent of Jesus is powerful to give us real joy for living. Jesus addressed the very real hardships the disciples (and we!) would face. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20-24)
Because of Jesus, no matter what sadness we face, we are fueled by indestructible joy.