Joy Can Be So Elusive: Thoughts on the Newtown, CT tragedy

Joy Can Be So Elusive: Thoughts on the Newtown, CT tragedy


Joy Can Be So Elusive

Rev. Aaron Anderson


The Christmas season is supposed to be a time of joy. We sing carols like ‘Joy to the World’ and warmly proclaim ‘Merry Christmas’ to strangers.

Joy is happiness on steroids. It has a deeply ecstatic and exultant quality to it that stirs within us an elated sense of delight and pleasure.

Joy springs itself on us in life’s special moments: you see joy on a groom’s face when the doors of the sanctuary open to the resplendent bride he suddenly begins to grasp will now be his own.

You see joy on the face of a mom who has just weathered the agonizing pain of childbirth as she cradles her newborn baby for the first time.

You see joy on the face of a mom whose 12-year old son has just awakened from several days of unconsciousness as she realizes she has received back the son she thought was lost.

Joy is an overpowering emotion. When joy hits it is almost unbearable. The chest pounds, the widest smile spreads across the face, tears begin to flow and the volume of our shouts is uncontrolled. It is hard to imagine the feeling lasting for sustained periods of time because joy is so overwhelming.

But joy can be so elusive. Just when you think you have it firmly in your grasp it slips away.

That reality came crashing through on Friday as we watched in terror as the scene in Newtown, Connecticut unfolded. 28 people deprived of life two weeks before Christmas. 20 children among the carnage!

As a father of what will soon be six children I cannot begin to fathom the crushing agony of losing a child. I had the tiniest glimpse into that world in 2008 when my 2-year old neighbor Darisabel Baez was murdered by her mother’s boyfriend. Joy was so elusive in those days. The pain never truly went away nor do I suspect it will.

But I can’t fathom losing one of my own children. If I’m honest as a father and pastor I’m afraid it would so terribly shake my world that I fear I would come up short when it comes to faith. I would probably be asking the same questions so many are asking today like: “Why?” “Why didn’t God stop the gunman?”

The whole scene is reminiscent of the dark days in which the prophet Zephaniah ministered. His own people were on the verge of becoming captives to the world power Babylon. The prospect of this devastation would fill his nation with such overwhelming fear that their hands would “hang limp.” Their once joyful feasts would become bitter mourning as they would be scattered to foreign lands far away from home and their fortunes decimated. On that great Day fear would be abundant and joy would be elusive and in short supply.

So many of the biblical stories are full of this kind of grieving, longing and groaning for the absence of joy. Sentimental nostalgia doesn’t help grieving people nor does it last. Our grief is real and can’t be erased with simple answers or trite holiday expressions.

The Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote a book about his journey toward faith called Surprised by Joy. Lewis’s life was a desperate search for joy. His mother died when he was the fragile age of nine and thereafter his father sent him to various boarding schools as a young man.

During his childhood Lewis recounted how he experienced momentary, sharp stabs of overpowering joy. These glimpses of joy were brought on at the sight of a sunset or as he pondered the Norse mythology he so loved. But joy was elusive. He couldn’t produce the experiences on his own. As Lewis aged pessimism set in. He longed for joy but refused to believe that God existed. His desire for those stabbing moments of childhood joy persisted still and he declared “To get it (joy) again…became my constant endeavor.”

At 33 years old Lewis found joy or rather joy found him as he discovered Jesus Christ to be the Joy for which he had so desperately searched.

Far too often we go searching for joy and come up empty. Tragedy strikes, relationships breakdown, careers fall apart and the very fabric of our world is torn to shreds like Friday in Connecticut.

Terror and fear raise their bullhorn and shout: “God doesn’t care. You are on your own!”

In times like these we need to hear the comfort Zephaniah offered his own grieving people.

“Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”

I deeply sympathize with people who have given up searching for hope or joy. The world we jointly occupy is deeply fractured. The freedom God gives every human to express themselves is a powerfully dangerous weapon. Sometimes we use that freedom for good but too often we use it to fill our world with violence.

God must surely hate what happened in Newtown on Friday. I refuse to believe in a God who is not deeply set against the injustices we do to each other.

In the dark hours of life I don’t believe God is in heaven shaking his head over our inability to produce joy. God doesn’t come to grieving parents and demand joyful singing. In love God comes to them and quiets them with his love as he rejoices over them with singing.

The psalmist said “weeping may remain for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” May the God who came to us in Jesus Christ to experience and lift the gloom of humanity’s injustices bring the joy that comes in the Morning to the grieving families in Connecticut and wherever joy has been so elusive.

Comments are closed.