When I read the Bible, I find that joy has a close connection to suffering and sorrow. I recently read these words in Psalm 126:
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
In Psalm 30 we read:
Weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.
In the words we know as the Beatitudes as recorded by Luke Jesus says,
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.
This seems counter-intuitive. How can joy arise from sorrow, suffering and persecution? Surely joy comes from the absence of these things, not from passing through them. But that's not what Scripture says. Joy arises as we pass through the valley of dark shadows. It comes in the darkness, as we long and hope and cry out for the light. Joy, as Katie Axelson points out, ties into hope. If we were only joyful when things were great, many of us would find few opportunities for joy. Even if things are going great for us personally, we must be aware that we live in a broken world, one in which people lack access to the most basic needs of life like clean water, one in which so many are marginalized, abused and silenced, one in which little children are gunned down in an unfathomable outburst of violence. No matter how nice our own personal worlds may be, we must acknowledge that this world gives precious few reasons for joy.
Yet in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us and threatens to consume us, we have reason for joy, because we have hope. We believe and affirm that because of the birth of Jesus this world has hope. With hope comes joy, because we audaciously hope and believe that the future does not have to be the same as the present. In fact we know the end of the story: God wins.
We live in this world as those who go out weeping. We mourn over the brokenness of our world. But we can sow seeds of hope. We can sow seeds of love. We can sow seeds of transformation. And in time, perhaps not in our own lives, but in time, we believe that these seeds will bear fruit and the kingdom of God will come on earth as it is in heaven. In this knowledge and in the strength of God's Spirit who works through us in this still-being-redeemed world we can find joy. At the present time it remains mixed with a strong measure of sorrow and grief, but still we can find joy if we hold on to our hope.