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“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:13
What comes to our minds when we are asked to describe God? That God is ‘holy’ perhaps. Or ‘God is love’? What about God being joy?
C.S. Lewis entitled his spiritual biography in which he describes his journey from atheism to the Christian faith as ‘Surprised by Joy’. He speaks of the climax of discovering this joy like this: ‘No slightest hint vouchsafed me that there ever had been or ever would be any connection between God and Joy. If anything, it was the reverse. I had hoped that the heart of reality might be such a kind that we can symbolise it as a place; instead I found it to be a Person.’ There you have it - Joy is a Person.
Jesus is joy. This is what he prays for his disciples on the night of his betrayal within their hearing. From one point of view Jesus need not have prayed this prayer. On returning to his Father in heaven, he could have simply asked God the Father then to do all these things; to make the disciples one, sanctifying them, giving them joy and so on. But he prays this prayer in the hearing of his followers. Why? We know how encouraging it is to know that someone is praying for us when we are feeling down. So it is that at this point in the lives of the disciples which are about to hit rock bottom as their ‘hearts were troubled’. And so Jesus wants to reassure them and what they hear is enough to lift the most despondent heart. Jesus’ desire is that his Joy will be had by his followers in full.
Jesus has already spoken to his followers about this joy back in chapter 15:11 - ‘These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.’ And one way that joy starts to permeate the hearts and souls of his disciples is by hearing this prayer. The joy of which Jesus speaks, which his disciples are to have in full measure, is his joy.
Has it ever struck you that Jesus was the happiest man who ever lived? Despite all the injustices thrown at him, all the disappointments surrounding him, not once do you detect even a hint of self-pity. More than that, when he sent out his disciples on mission, which by any human reckoning was not massively successful with rejection being experienced from whole villages, we find this amazing description of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, ‘At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said ‘I praise you Father, the Lord of heaven and earth.’’ Here we are given a tantalizing glimpse into the life of the Trinity where we see scintillating joy. The Holy Spirit is the mediator of joy to the Son from the Father, and the Son expresses delight to the Father in praise. Following the theological thread this means before there was a universe to enjoy, there was joy from all eternity - the shear, enraptured delight of the Father for the Son, the Son’s joy in the Father, shared between them by the mediating joyful person of the Holy Spirit. That is exactly what the Lord Jesus wants for us. The moment I see my grandchildren I experience joy - I can’t help it. The moment God looks upon you and me through the filter of his Son, he experiences joy. And when we contemplate our heavenly Father and the beauty of his Son, the Holy Spirit gives us something which we can’t work up - joy. May God give us more joy!
O Lord whose very essence is Joy, fill my heart increasingly with that divine gift. For your name’s sake. Amen.