Sermon Illustrations on Joy
Chapter One of the Great Story
In the epic conclusion to the Narnia Chronicles, C.S. Lewis attempts to express the absolute joy that will come as our earthly lives come to an end and we are reunited with our God for all of eternity:
The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
The Greatest Challenge to Faith
The great challenge of faith is to be surprised by joy. I remember sitting at a dinner table with friends discussing the economic depression of the country. We kept throwing out statistics that made us increasingly convinced that things could only get worse. Then, suddenly, the four-year-old son of one my friends opened the door, ran to his father, and said, “Look, Daddy! Look! I found a little kitten in the yard . . . Look! . . . Isn’t she cute?”
While showing the kitten to his father, the little boy stroked the kitten with his hands and held it against his face. All at once everything changed. The little boy and his kitten became the center of attention. There were smiles, strokes, and many tender words. We were surprised by joy!
He Saw it, He Loved it, He Ate it
Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are and other children’s books, gets many letters from his young fans. A favorite was a “charming” drawing sent on by a little boy’s mother. “I loved it,” Sendak says. “I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on a post card and sent it to him. His mother wrote back: ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ The little boy didn’t care that it was an original drawing. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it. That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received.”
Submitted by Chris Stroup, source material, Maurice Sendak.
Katja, our seven-year-old granddaughter, stepped in it, as they say. She had doggie droppings on the bottom of her tennies. Not just one foot, mind you, but both. Her mother, Maureen, suggested she leave the shoes outside, where they could be cleaned after lunch. An hour later, Adam and Katja went for a walk to fix the problem. She put on her shoes, looked for a good stick, and off they went down the street.
When they came to an appropriate spot, she sat on the curb and started scraping. Thirty seconds later, she stopped. She looked up at Adam with a smile, down at her shoes, then at the brown stuff scraped onto the street. “You know, Daddy,” she said, “this would make a very good meal for a dung beetle.”
The contentment range of unspoiled children is a mile from end to end. Joy beacons, I call them, God’s little ambassadors to cheerless cynics. The laughter of just one child is enough to lift a crowd of fifty. Where do they get this capacity? How do they pull it off so casually, to make happy connections between a shoe full and the disgusting culinary habits of ugly beetles? According to statistics, four-year-olds laugh 26.6 times more than I do. No wonder Jesus preferred the kids to, say, me. To be honest, I prefer them to me too. Young children find equal delight in a puddle or a pigeon, a worm or a waffle.
Throw in a puppy, and joy goes off the charts. “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Contentment in the young does not require Disneyland. Just a book on beetles. Or a puppet drinking green milk. Just hearts with the capacity for delight, brains with the capacity for imagination, and spirits with the innocence of sufficiency. Perhaps the statute of limitations for creation wonder
Joy’s Relationship to the Good Life
Could joy, then, be a candidate for a one-word definition of the good life, perhaps in the same way some people think happiness is? Indeed, could it be better able to integrate in itself the requisite conditions for our thriving and our responsibility for it? Could the good life be described as the life of joy, as the parable of the talents might be read to suggest? Not quite. Joy is a bit like a crown.
Wearing a crown won’t make you a monarch; a child can wear one, as can a usurper. If you aren’t a monarch already, even if what is set on your head looks like a crown, it isn’t actually a crown. For the crown is a symbol of royal authority. It is similar with joy. Joy isn’t the good life; it is one part of it, the one dependent on the other two. If there is any good, either perceived or actual to rejoice over-no good circumstances or active stances-happy feelings might have may look and feel like joy, but they will not be joy.
As an emotion, joy is always over something (perceived) as good, and it presumes proper relation to some (perceived) good-which means that true joy presumes proper relation to some actual good. At the same time, the crown is not merely external to royal authority. In a crown, royal authority comes to expression; wearing it, a monarch is publicly manifest as monarch. It is similar with joy. Joy is not merely external to the good life, a mint leaf on the cake’s shipped cream. Rather, the good life expresses and manifests itself in joy. Joy is the emotional dimension of life that goes well and that is led well, a positive affective response to life going well and life being led well; all three in their interpenetrating unity, life going well, life being led well, and joy-are the good life.
The Love of God Wrapped About Him
The sense of Presence! I have spoken of it as stealing on one unawares. It is recorded of John Wilhelm Rowntree that as he left a great physician’s office, where he had just been told that his advancing blindness could not be stayed, he stood by some railings for a few moments to collect himself when he “suddenly felt the love of God wrap him about as though a visible presence enfolded him and a joy filled him such as he had never known before.”
An amazing timeliness of the Invading Love, as the Everlasting stole about him in his sorrow. I cannot report such a timeliness of visitation, but only unpredictable arrivals and fading-out. But without doubt it is given to many of richer experience to find the comfort of the Eternal is watchfully given at their crises in time.
The Meeting Place of Deep Intentionality and Self-Forgetting
In his prose and poetry, David Whyte shares what David Brooks refers to as “emotional joy” in his book, The Second Mountain. While not necessarily unique to the Christian, this type of joy has the ability to draw us towards deeper union with the creator of joy, as for example, C.S. Lewis describes in his autobiography.
Whyte uses beautiful language to describe joy this way:
Joy is the meeting place, of deep intentionality and self-forgetting, the bodily alchemy of what lies inside us in communion with what formally seemed outside, but is now neither, but becomes a living frontier, a voice speaking between us and the world: dance, laughter, affection, skin touching skin, singing in the car, music in the kitchen, the quiet irreplaceable and companionable presence of a daughter: the sheer intoxicating beauty of the world inhabited as an edge between what we previously thought was us and what we thought was other than us.
Good people will mirror goodness in us, which is why we love them so much, Not so mature people will mirror their own unlived and confused life unto us, which is why they confuse and confound us so much…
Our Father is Younger than We
If you read through G.K. Chesterton’s writings, it will not be long before you recognize the recurring theme of joy. Joy, Chesterton believed, ought to be a central experience of the one who realizes the absurdity of his life as a gift. What should have been a terminal diagnosis of death and condemnation has been rescued by the ultimate gift-giver, God himself, who gave up His son to death that we might experience eternal life. In this memorable passage, Chesterton reminds us that the God of the universe is the God of all joy, who gives us a small picture of what this joy looks like through the singular experience of…children.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.
It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daises like; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
A Quiet and Holy People with a Great Secret
As a third-century man was anticipating death, he penned these last words to a friend: “It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians–and I am one of them.”
Today In The Word, June, 1988, p. 18.
The Promise of Joy
In her book When God Talks Back, psychological anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann sets out to explain how sensible people believe in an immaterial God. One aspect of evangelical Christianity that she finds particularly compelling is its promise of joy, and Luhrmann talks about the theme of ultimate joy found in the stories of Tolkien and Lewis. She cites from an essay of Tolkien’s:
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending…a sudden and miraculous grace … it does not deny the existence…of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
See also Illustrations on Happiness
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Joy. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!