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A Meditation on Joy

“Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved. And all the people went their way to eat and drink . . . and to make merry” (Nehemiah 8:11-12).

Ezra stepped up on the wooden platform. A hush swept through the crowd. He read aloud God’s commandments, and proclaimed solemnly: “Today is holy. Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drink. The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

We must learn to rest in the holy joy of God.

A hidden joy is buried deep within every atom of the universe. Every twig and blade of grass, the birds, streams, and stars, all hum with joy. The angels in heaven wonder at God in joy. This same, pure joy, lies at the heart of our Christian faith. From where does the joy spring? It springs from knowing God, in his grandeur and wonder. Our place in life is simple: to stand facing God, to marvel, praise, and adore. This is joy, to be a part of the Great Doxology.

“Today is holy. Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drink. The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Israelites had lost their scriptures. The people had forgotten God and fallen from the straight path. At this historical event, the whole nation of Israel was gathered before their priest Ezra. The book shut to them for years was at last opened. He taught them God’s laws, and then, at the end of it all, his words are extraordinary. Pay attention to this. “Today is holy.” “Eat, drink, and be merry.”

“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There's always laughter and good red wine. At least I've always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!” (Hilaire Belloc).

A historian wrote this short ditty, capturing the spirit that he found so widespread in Christendom. The honest historians all note it too. Underneath the thin veil of hedonism, the pagan and modern world alike are really, very dark and gloomy. Yet, among Christian people there is a courageous hope and cheer. Behind our fasting and repentance, beneath our dogmas and morals, Christianity is the religion of joy.

I stumbled across an article recently called: “Merry England was real enough . . . until the puritans ruined it.” With a title like that it, you cannot help but read on. The author describes the history of England and makes an observation: “Merry England was not a myth. They really did use to dance around the maypole, feast all day and drink beer all night. And not only was it more merry, the merry-making was actually encouraged by the Church.” While some of the author’s points might raise an eye-brow, his thesis is solid. There is always laughter and good red wine in the Christian world. Merrymaking will be found in every Christian village, and there is nothing devil the likes best then to smother our joy.

In 1659, the pious Puritans in Massachusetts made it a criminal offense to celebrate Christmas. A fine of 5 shillings was imposed on any Englishman found “observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way.” Instead, such popish celebrations were to be days of “fasting and humiliation.” Bah humbug. However far we have moved away from our puritanical roots, we still have a hard time shaking off this attitude in America. We are good at hedonism. We have every imaginable kind of mind-numbing entertainment and intoxicating venues for escapism. We are not so good at wholesome, leisurely, joyful feasting, and we would do well to learn it.

Today, on the Second Sunday of Epiphany, the Church opens our hearts to Christ’s joy.

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ Christ told the servants to fill the jars with water and draw some out for the steward. The Steward tasted his wine and marveled. “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now!” ( John 2:1-11).

Christ takes foul water and turns it into rich wine. This is our Savior’s first miracle for the world. What is happening here? Jesus Christ wove together the universe. He was there when Man was fashioned out of clay. He was there on the Mountain instructing Moses. He was there with each and every prophet of olden times, patiently, ardently, preparing humanity to ready itself for the incarnation. At last, God became flesh. Heaven came down to earth. Spirit and matter merged into one. After all this, how does he finally reveal himself? The whole Gospel is summed up in this act. God manifests himself is delicious wine and festive merry-making.

St. Paul entreats God to fill the Church will “all joy” (Romans 15:13).

“A crushed spirit dries up the bones,” the Proverbs relate. “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

Even in our hard times, we ought to rejoice: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).

What do we have to rejoice about? If we could only open our eyes to reality, we would be overwhelmed with the joy.

The Angels in heaven live in a perpetual state of joy. They stand before the throne of God marveling at his power and beauty. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power: be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Revelation 5:11-14).

Yet, in all their glory, the angels have far less than we do.

The very Name of Jesus Christ is enough. This name which, at the time it is uttered aloud to the cosmos, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). A man or woman who utters the Name of Jesus Christ is immediately richer than all the kings in the world. Just to say his name, “Jesus,” is to be filled up with the splendor of heaven. It is enough.

Yet, we also drink the Blood of Christ and eat His Holy Body. We consume Him and take Him into ourselves. This is more than the angels and archangels could ever hope for. We are Χριστόφοροiς - “Christ-bearers.”

So rejoice, marvel, and wonder.

As the year unfolds, our struggles continue, and the foundations of the world shake, we must hold onto this. If we have God, we have enough.

“Today is holy. Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drink. The joy of the Lord is your strength.”


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