I cannot say or sing the word “rejoice” without smiling. Can you? Go find a mirror and try it right now. I’ll wait.
How did you do? What expression did you make? And why is rejoice a word you don’t hear much outside of the Bible? We sing the word often in church, and you might even see it in a Christmas image posted on social media, but nobody seems to say the word much in conversation.
The Oxford Dictionary defines the verb as feeling or showing great joy or delight, and it defines the noun “joy” as a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.
In the Old Testament, 1 Chronicles 16:10 and Psalm 105:3 both say, “…let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!” And in the Christmas story, Matthew uses the word when he explains how the wise men reacted to the star they followed to find young Jesus. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).
Later, just before praying His high priestly prayer and going to the cross, Jesus promises His followers that their sorrow will turn into joy when He sees them again. “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
And after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Apostle Peter writes to the early Christians. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
Notice that these hearts are rejoicing “exceedingly” and with a joy that is not only great but also inexpressible, incapable of being taken away, and filled with glory. Wow! Nothing subtle or stoic is going on here. This is heartfelt, out-of-control rejoicing with loud voices, hands lifted high, and irrepressible smiles. Some dancing is probably involved, too!
I love the picture that comes to my mind when I ponder that. And I think I caught a few momentary glimpses of heartfelt joy in 2022. Reconnecting with two sweet Montana friends we hadn’t seen in 14 long years, giving my oldest daughter a giant hug when I flew down to Louisville to visit her at college, cheering while a dear little friend at church got baptized, and treasuring the sound of music as my youngest daughter played “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on a lovely grand piano to accompany her college choir. My heart overflowed with joy in each of those moments. But oh, how much greater our rejoicing will be when Jesus comes again!
Are you ready for that? Is your heart ready to rejoice? Or is your heart troubled by the thought of Jesus returning?
Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1-4).