The forced expectations of joy at this time of year often highlight what is wrong or missing in people’s lives. If people see a stark contrast between their lives and what is presented as a cultural norm, they can feel isolated and depressed. Joy received from God can restore a sense of wholeness and community.
Joy is not a surface-level happy – it is deeply seated in one’s character. Joy may not always manifest itself in smiles and laughter, but rather in grace and assurance. Joy might be described as knowing something better exists, and holding onto that which is better.
In today’s message, it is important to highlight the Scripture’s focus on contrast – that in opposition to brokenness, wrongs, sorrows and sighs, God will prevail, and one day all shall be well. Consider the many issues people face today. What are some of the issues that participants need joy to contrast? You can name such issues as job loss, changes in relationships, health concerns and aging. Doing so can help people suffering in silence.
During the course of the service, be careful not to steal people’s joy! In naming what may be wrong, let us not forget what is right. The time spent on naming our challenges should be less than the time spent focusing on the good news. Often, it seems, whatever we focus on grows larger. Look at the places where God’s reign is evident—where the hun- gry are fed, where the naked are clothed, where people lift others from their places of lowliness. As you praise God, you will draw strength knowing that no matter the issue, joy truly “comes with the morning” (Psalm 30).
Think about your worship setting. Are the aesthetics somber or joyful? Does your sanctuary look like you are prepar- ing for the birth of a King? How can you help those parishioners who are visual learners experience pleasure through sight? Does the music for this day reflect the joy of the Lord that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10)? How can you en- courage lively singing this day? Create awareness around passing the peace, so this too may become a time of recognizing the joy that comes through forgiveness from God and one another.
1-2 Wilderness and desert will sing joyously, the badlands will celebrate and flower—Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and color. Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift. Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts. God’s resplendent glory, fully on display. God awesome, God majestic.
3-4 Energize the limp hands, strengthen the rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, “Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right And redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”
5-7 Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, Lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song. Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, streams flow in the desert. Hot sands will become a cool oasis, thirsty ground a splashing fountain. Even lowly jackals will have water to drink, and barren grasslands flourish richly.
8-10 There will be a highway called the Holy Road. No one rude or rebellious is permitted on this road. It’s for God’s people exclusively— impossible to get lost on this road. Not even fools can get lost on it. No lions on this road, no dangerous wild animals—Nothing and no one dangerous or threatening. Only the redeemed will walk on it. The people God has ransomed will come back on this road. They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion, unfading halos of joy encircling their heads, Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night.