One of the accusations made by the religious leaders of Jesus' day was that he partied with undesirables. It was unacceptable in their minds to associate in any way with undesirables. That would make you 'unclean'. But it was particularly unacceptable to party with undesirables. Then, as now, religion was thought to be very serious business, much too serious for the kind of celebrations that Jesus enjoyed. Religion was supposed to be about intellectual abstractions and theological detail - not about going to dinner parties with unsavory characters.
In his teachings Jesus draws extensively on the Old Testament themes of the Sabbath, the Jubilee and the messianic feast to make a point. Jesus told many stories about God's love for celebration. When the lost is found, the finder throws a feast. When the prodigal returns, the father has a party. When a single person repents, the angels rejoice. And on and on. Jesus, the man of sorrows, was also a man of celebration and joy.
Like the religious leaders of Jesus' day, we may sometimes find ourselves resistant to joy. We may resist joy because we fear disappointment. Or we may resist joy because it doesn't seen congruent with being a serious minded person of faith. We may resist joy because we have been shamed or even punished for being overly enthusiastic as a child.
It is a risk to make room for joy in our lives. Joy requires that we be open to the possibility of experiencing conflicting emotions. If we wait to experience joy until our anger, grief and self-condemnation are completely gone, then we will wait a long time. But it is possible to experience joy without denying or avoiding other more painful emotions. We can follow Jesus' example of joy today. When joy comes, we can receive it. It is a good gift from God.
Lord of joy,
Lord of celebration,
Open my heart to the possibility of joy today.
Help me to tolerate the confusion that comes when sorrow and joy
live side by side in my heart.
Give me the courage to
joyfully celebrate life.
Copyright Dale and Juanita Ryan
National Association for Christian Recovery