OUR MANTRA FOR OUR STUDY: “I AM JOY!”
Each year at Christmas time, the Christian church celebrates the Advent season. Traditionally (the word “advent” is not mentioned in Scripture) the celebration starts 4 Sundays before Christmas with a focus on the parousia, the coming of Christ. Advent symbolizes the present day circumstances of the Christian church, as we await and hope with expectation for the arrival of the Messiah-King, Jesus. While Advent traditions varies, the focus is on four illuminations/candles to symbolize the anticipation of Christ’s birth: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and the Christ Candle representing Jesus’ presence to humanity, that is lit on Christmas day.
For the purpose of our study, we will focus on the idea of JOY.
What does it mean to have joy? How does joy differ from happiness? Most importantly, how do we secure and maintain the joy of the Lord, especially in the context of chaos and disruption found in the world in which we must live?
The prophecy of Zechariah, an “oracle” of God, assists us in our quest for joy and our desire to secure and maintain joy within our lives.
Definition of the word “oracle” – a person with great wisdom and/or a person believed to have communication with deity (in Scripture often a prophet). Hebrew definition of the word – Translated in Hebrew as “burden.”
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Zechariah 9: 1-6. The word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrach and will rest upon Damascus. For to the Lord belongs the capital of Aram, as do all the other tribes of Israel; Hamath also, which borders on it, Tyre and Sidon, though they are very wise. Tyre has built itself a rampart, and heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets. But now, the Lord will strip it of its possessions and hurl its wealth into the sea, and it shall be devoured by fire, Ashkelon shall see it and be afraid, Gaza too, and shall writhe in anguish; Ekron also, because its hopes are withered. The king shall perish from Gaza; Ashkelon shall be uninhabited; a mongrel people shall settle in Ashdod, and I will make an end of the pride of Philistia.
Zechariah 9: 9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
It is rare to encounter an intersection between biblical and extra-biblical history. These worlds are distinctly different – biblical writers wrote for godly inspiration and theological impact to their audiences, while ancient non-biblical writers were primarily concerned with writing about historical events, separate from holy scripture. Interestingly, the book of Zechariah has a strong connection to ancient historical events, as well as the prophecies of Israel during the exilic period of 520-518 B.C. Zechariah’s prophecy to Israel (Zechariah 9: 1-6) was written almost 200 years before the reign of Alexander the Great, the warrior king of Macedonia; yet, the Zechariah prophecy predicts the war campaigns and battles of the mighty Greek general, in 336-323 B.C.E, as Alexander defeated the empires which surrounded Israel/Judah:
“In fact, the divine conquest depicted in Zechariah 9: 1-8 corresponds closely with Alexander’s conquest in the Levant.* Places in west Syria are mentioned first, then Phoenician cities, and most significantly, special attention is given to the fall of Tyre as a decisive event. Finally, Philistine cities are devastated, Ashkelon and Gaza in particular. In this way, Zechariah 9-14 starts by recalling the decisive events that mark the beginning of Hellenistic domination over the Levant….. Indeed, the campaigns of Alexander provoked the destruction of important neighboring cities, such a Tyre, Gaza, and Samaria.” (“Zechariah 9-14 and the Continuation of Zechariah during the Ptolemaic Period”, pg.22-23 – Herve Gonzalez)
*The Levant is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia.
In an amazing intersection of biblical/extra biblical historical events, it is recorded that Alexander the Great had a dream in which he was warned NOT to conquer Judah/Israel, or pillage the holy city of Jerusalem. Every major territory surrounding Israel was conquered and devastated by the war campaigns of Alexander, but Alexander by-passed the Israeli territories. In fact, the ancient history of Alexander indicates his armies met the Levite priests, dressed in white, with trumpets and musical instruments giving praise to God. Alexander was so impacted by the sight of the Levite priesthood, he decidedly chose not to “touch” Judah. But, by defeating the political powers around Judah, and destroying their empires, Israel was able to re-group and rebuild the Temple, Jerusalem, and other key cities of the nation. (Antiquities of the Jews – Flavius Josephus)
We must remember that Zechariah’s prophesy for Jerusalem occurs 200 years prior to Alexander the Great’s impact upon Israel/Judah’s circumstances. Yet, in the prophecy of Zechariah, the daughter of Zion (Israel) is instructed to “rejoice greatly!” How does one rejoice in the midst of violence, chaos, and oppression? When the daughter of Zion is commanded to rejoice, Israel is yet in bondage and in exile. How does one have joy in this type of circumstance?
Perhaps our questions starts with a working definition of the meaning of joy, because we so often confuse joy with happiness. As we know, happiness is based on an external, fleeting emotion that is often rooted in the acquiring of “things”. I can be happy on Monday, then my circumstances change, and on Tuesday suddenly, I now have the blues. Joy, in contrast, has very little to do with our emotional response to our external realities.
The Sacred Equation: God’s glory (Shekinah) + our personal internal illumination = JOY
MORE ABOUT JOY
While happiness is an external emotional output or feeling, joy is a spiritual practice. Joy is rooted in the internal, while happiness is rooted in the external. Joy is created and sustained by God, whose sacred illumination is the divine spark found in all of God’s creation, and particularly humanity. The embers of joy are always within all of us because of the glory/Shekinah of God’s presence within our spiritual DNA. Like an ember that is forever glowing, we can secure joy by connecting our internal light with God’s glory. This is a deliberate choice which becomes a spiritual practice. It is the reason that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit and happiness is not.
As our elders would attest, the world can make you happy, but it is only temporary: “This joy the world didn’t give to me, and the world cannot take it away.” Joy is a deliberate and personal choice to allow your divine, spiritual light to shine regardless of the present circumstances. This is why God commands the Daughter of Zion (the nation of Israel) to “rejoice greatly” even while in captivity. Joy knows that trouble doesn’t last always and commands us to look to the past with gratitude; look to the present with hope, and look to the future in faith, believing in the promises of God. Therefore, the Daughter of Zion ( the daughter of the citadel/fortress) is told to “lift up your head, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in” (Psalm 24:7).
With divine irony, the Daughter of Zion is compelled to manage a “disruptive receptivity,” acknowledging that God can call, confound, and comfort at the very same time! Life for Israel did not change in exile/hard times, but the Daughter of Zion is still commanded to have joy. Zion’s life pattern was disrupted by a new experience of joyful prophecy, even as they were STILL going through: “Rejoice, O daughter of Zion. Rejoice greatly!”
What does this mean for the contemporary daughters of God?
In Zechariah 9: 12, the prophet proclaims: “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope, even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.”
Zechariah is not a Pollyanna prophet. He too suffered their present day sting of oppression and exile. Zechariah realizes the community of faith is living with the uncertainty of whether God will truly rescue God’s people. Zechariah’s prophecy covers a wide expanse of life: past, present, & future. Zechariah opens up his prophecy to remind God’s people that they are prisoners; but with a different lens. Instead of looking down with the lens of despair, Judah is to look up with the eyes of hope, because God’s prophecy is about their present AND their future.
When the Daughter of Zion receives the prophesy, the manifestation of it will not come in their lifetime, YET, they are to celebrate with joyful anticipation of its future promise. These prisoners of hope will proclaim God’s glory with joy in their hearts: What God has done, what God is doing, and what God shall do.
The connection to Zechariah’s prophesy is ours to choice. What shall we do? Will we rejoice greatly looking to the marvelous past works of God in our lives and our community? Will we rejoice knowing that each day God is keeping us? Shall we, in faith, hold tight to the promises of God for our future?
“For You are my Help, I will sing for joy in the shadow of Your wings.
My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.”
Shall we rejoice greatly? It is our choice to make. Let us CHOOSE Joy!
Questions for our discussion and consideration:
What is your personal pursuit to joy? How do you deliberately choose joy?
How do we “hold fast” to the promises of God? What is your practice for this? Please share.
How does the Zechariah prophecy connect to our own slave ancestry? Explain.