Embracing Joy & Celebration

There are countless reasons to be joyful.

Deep inside, we know this. Even in difficult or painful seasons, most of us can reach into our hearts to find things to be thankful for and things that are still good. Secular and religious sources alike will often encourage people to “count their blessings” or make a “gratitude list” in order to keep discouragement from getting the best of them.

But we can be hesitant to fully immerse ourselves in joy. We long for it, but we are unsure what to do with it when it comes.

We might be concerned about seeming insensitive to others who are hurting or struggling. We might be cynical or fearful, thinking it might sabotage our good moment if we enjoy it too much. Or maybe we deem it as a mark of spirituality to not get too carried away with any emotion.

Strange as it may seem, there can be a tendency to keep joy at arm’s length. So many of us have experienced the nearness of God in our darkest moments, but let’s not forget—He is also fully present in our joy.

Remembering His Goodness

Throughout Scripture, we can find examples that indicate how much God delights in our joy and how much He wants us to embrace it.

Consider the Old Testament for a moment. Has it ever struck you that there is a feast for everything? Well, specifically, there are seven major feasts outlined in Leviticus 23, on top of other times when God instructed the Israelites to make a monument or do something else symbolic and commemorative.

God instructed His people to celebrate--and not just a little bit! Often the instructions for these celebrations included several days of festivities filled with meaningful rituals and elaborate meals shared. Why did this matter to Him?

Celebrations help us to remember God’s faithfulness. They help us to never forget miracles He has performed, trials He has brought us through, and all the goodness He pours out.

Not only do celebrations help us remember, but they also serve as a legacy to pass on to future generations. Multiple times, God gives instructions for a symbol or ritual and then says, “Now when your children ask you what this means, you can tell them...” (see Exodus 12:26 and Joshua 4:6). When our children hear stories of God’s goodness, it stirs their faith and expectation.

Making the Choice

There are definitely times in our lives when we don’t feel like celebrating, but those are probably the times when we need to choose celebration the most!

I’ll never forget one particular Christmas we had when I was a little girl. I don’t recall all the circumstances, but I know it had been a rough year for my parents. Things were tight financially, and there wasn’t much money for presents and all the usual celebration.

My mom decided we were going to have a theme that year: joy. Somehow she pulled together some money to go a store that was having a major sale on Christmas decorations, and we looked for symbols of joy. We found small French horns that we used as napkin rings because they seemed triumphant and a reminder of heralding good news. We found a little joy ornament for the Christmas tree, and we found some angel cookie cutters.

Again and again throughout that holiday season, as a family, we deliberately chose joy. All these years later, I don’t remember if there ended up being presents or not. I don’t remember if there were special events or concerts attended. But I do remember enjoying my family more that Christmas than any other year. I remember lots of laughter and time together. I remember that the circumstances didn't get to choose our joy; we did.

This is how God had the angels announce the birth of Jesus—with tidings of great joy for all people (see Luke 2:10). He wants us to have joy.

Knowing His Delight

Are you up for a dare?

I dare you to throw yourself headlong into joy. It is not insensitive; it is not silly. It is the Father’s gift to you. The same Emmanuel who has been with you in the hard places is with you in places of celebration.

Lay down cynicism or disappointment or weariness, and look for joy. Find it in the laughter of people you love. Find it in the way stars seem to sparkle a little brighter on frosty nights. Find it in favorite songs or desserts fresh from the oven or unexpected surprises. Find it in the act of giving to someone else, in creating joy for them.

Most of all, find joy in the thought of a God—whom we tend to think of as pretty dignified—singing loudly with delight over you. Because He does:

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. - Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

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