No matter how much individuals do through their own efforts, they cannot actively purify themselves enough to be disposed in the least degree for the divine union of the perfection of love. God must take over and purge them in that fire that is dark for them.
— St. Juan de la Cruz, 16th Century
What if the hardship we face are actually invitations to enter into joy? I understand the very question may seem hyper-spiritual and inconsiderate of the disappointments and unmet expectations we journey through on a daily basis. When you pause to reflect upon the happenings of the last year would you characterize it as a year of joy?
There have been moments when that has certainly been true. And there are moments when the opposite seems more prevalent. Frankly, this past year has seen a lot of darkness. And yet, I cannot overlook the aforementioned question: What if the hardship we face are actually invitations to enter into joy?
When the prodigal son returns to his prodigal father in Luke 15:11-32, it is the epitome of joy. The son has joy at the reception of his father. The father has joy in the homecoming of his son, and the slaughtered fatted calf signals that there was much joy in the party.
Henri Nouwen, the author of The Return of the Prodigal Son, says that one of the central focuses of the parable is actually the Father’s joy. For it is in His joy that the prodigal son exults. And, it is this very same joy that the older brother spurns. The older brother will not go into the party to rejoice. He stays outside of the party; He remains outside of the Father’s joy.
Advent can be a time of manufactured enthusiasm when many of us are busier in the month of December than we are all year. Christmastime can be an achingly painful reminder of all that we’ve lost the past year. Those who aren’t with us this year and the losses we experience can make it feel like we might never be cheerful again.
An invitation in this season to you may be to enter the Father’s joy. When you lack joy of your own, are unable to manufacture joy, or are reminded of all the things that have taken your joy, the invitation is to enter into and receive authentic joy.
The joy of the Father is found when His children come home. And this is possible because of Christ’s birth 2000 years ago. With the birth of Jesus true joy is not only a possibility but a reality for all of those who might come to Him.
What if the hardships we face are actually invitations to enter into joy?
Will you come home to the Father and receive His son and enter into His joy?
—Pastor Jason Cook
November 18, 2021