The word ‘joy’ in lights on a windowsill.
Photo by Kolby Milton on Unsplash
The joy that comes from Jesus
December 5, 2023
The city of Cleveland, Ohio where I have resided off and on since 1987 is the site of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That is the case, because back in the 1950s a disc jockey by the name of Alan Freed who worked for an AM radio station here in Cleveland began referring to the music of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley as rock ‘n’ roll music. In keeping with the legacy of this genre of music, a poll was taken by the Rock Hall to see what fans thought was the #1 rock ‘n’ roll song of all time. When the decision was announced over the radio one Labor Day weekend, the poll revealed that the winner was the 1965 song by The Rolling Stones entitled “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
It occurs to me that the popularity and longevity of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” can likely be attributed to the simple fact that many people around the world have suffered from the problem of trying to find something that can bring them some form of physical or sensual satisfaction. The song has a refrain that says, “I try, and I try, and I try, and I try. I can’t get no satisfaction.” You can almost hear the cultural trends of the last half-century captured in those lyrics; I have tried drugs, I have tried sex, I have tried alcohol, I have tried gambling, I have tried pornography, I have tried amassing great wealth, I have tried anything and everything that can bring quick pleasure or a cheap thrill. However, at the end of the day, or perhaps more appropriately at the crack of dawn when the effects of the drugs or alcohol have worn off, people are right back where they started. “I try, and I try, and I try, and I try. I can’t get no satisfaction.”
Advent and Christmas are times when the church can offer something that has brought comfort, strength, the power of perseverance, and the satisfaction that comes from possessing something that is better than any thrill, or pleasure, or fleeting happiness that anything of this world can provide. That something is the joy of knowing Jesus and the satisfaction that comes from living as he commands us in scripture. Joy was spoken of by the angel over Bethlehem when the announcement was made about the birth of Jesus to shepherds that were watching over their flocks one dark and lonely night. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 NIV). Joy is also listed among the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.”
Joy is something that works from the inside out, rather than the thrills of this world that work from the outside in. Joy is something that resides within me as an involuntary action that does not need to be ignited by the external thrills of the world around me. Furthermore, unlike the song by B.B. King that declares “The thrill is gone,” the joy of the Lord remains with us through the storms and trials that can surround us without warning. How many Christmas gifts that seemed so exciting on the day they were taken from under the tree and unwrapped have been set aside or outgrown in a matter of weeks or months. Many of them are returned to the store in exchange for something else, perhaps something that we think might give us more satisfaction.
Advent reminds us that the best things in life are not the trinkets, toys, thrills, and temptations of this world that come from the outside in an attempt to give us a temporary thrill or some short-term pleasure. Life is about the gifts that God provides that work from the inside out and sustain us even when everything is not going our way. The themes of Advent point us to those gifts of hope, love, peace, and joy.
Last Christmas, my two granddaughters both received a pair of shoes they had long desired and finally were able to wear when school reopened after the holiday. Recently, when I asked them about how they were enjoying those shoes, they both said they had outgrown their Christmas shoes by Memorial Day. The shoes may have brought short-term satisfaction or pleasure, but it did not last long.
Joy is not a giddy happiness that reveals itself in smiles of delight. Joy is a deep assurance that reveals itself in times of trial with the reassuring reminder that no matter what lies ahead, “The Lord is with me.” The joy of the Lord is not only the uplift that comes from great preaching or inspirational music. It is also the blessed assurance that Jesus is mine. It is perfect peace as referenced in Isaiah 26:3. It is the resolve demonstrated by Paul in Philippians 4:10-13 (NIV) when he says:
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want, I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
This is a long way from the Rolling Stones lamenting that “I try, and I try, and I try, and I try. I can’t get no satisfaction.”
There is something else about the joy of the Lord that cannot be said about the things that might provide us with short-term, temporary, sensual, or financial satisfaction. No matter how much money we have amassed or how much fame we have achieved, or how much alcohol or drugs we have ingested, we cannot take any of that with us once we die. Jesus spoke about that in a parable about a rich man who was about to build a bigger barn to hold his earthly wealth. “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? That is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21 NIV).
I have some advice for those who are still saying “I can’t get no satisfaction.” They need to look somewhere else for the contentment they are trying to find. They should consider the question raised by the prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2 ESV). Advent reminds us that the best things in life are not the trinkets, toys, thrills, and temptations of this world that come from the outside in an attempt to give us a temporary thrill or some short-term pleasure. Life is about the gifts that God provides that work from the inside out and sustain us even when everything is not going our way. The themes of Advent point us to those gifts of hope, love, peace, and joy. As a song I learned many years ago says, “This joy I have, the world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away!”
Dr. Marvin A. McMickle is interim executive minister, Cleveland Baptist Association, American Baptist Churches, USA. He served as president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Rochester, New York, from 2011 to 2019.