There once was a beggar who sat on a box by the side of the road. For many years, day in and day out, streams of people would pass him by and he would ask for a few coins or a bit of charity. One day a traveler was walking by and caught the beggar’s eye: “Please give me some money!” he shouted.
The traveler answered, “I am sorry, my friend. I don’t have any money, but I am curious about your box there.” The beggar asked, “What about it? It’s just a box.” The traveler asked him, “What do you have in the box?” The beggar responded, “I found it here, and I’ve been sitting on it for years. I’ve never looked inside.” The traveler asked, “Why not?”
Now the beggar was angry. “Because there is nothing there, that’s why!” he answered in a huff. Gently, the traveler said, “Well, let’s take a look, shall we?” So, finally, to appease the traveler’s insistence, the beggar split the box open and a treasure of gold burst onto the ground. He’d been sitting on it for years and never knew it.
Not many stories more accurately describe individuals in our world today than the one above. We sit, as we have for years, begging and pleading for someone else to make us happy. All along we have more than we need. It is joy. It is happiness. It is the gladness of God’s love given to us, his grace shed upon us: The “reason for the season,” as is said.
Or in the words of that old children’s song from Sunday school, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, down in my heart!” But is this joy shown on our faces or in our conversations? Fear? Yes, there’s plenty of that. Anger? You bet. Annoyance? Dealt in spades. Depression? Daily. Fatigue? You know it. But joy? It is largely undiscovered, boxed away and hidden.
But take a closer look. It’s there if you will look for it, if you unpack it. Joy is the ringing bell outside the department store as you’re invited to give to the red kettle. It is the giggle of your children and grandchildren as they wait in line to sit on Santa’s knee. It is sitting there around your holiday table, on the faces of your friends and family.
Joy is in every Christmas caroler, every gift given, every holiday meal shared, and in every reading of the Nativity story. Joy waits, like all well-mannered guests, to be recognized and invited in. And when welcomed, it becomes the life of the party.
One of the great repeated admonitions in Scripture is a simple command: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” Noise. You don’t have to be on key. You don’t have to be musically inclined or have a pitch-perfect ear. It doesn’t even have to be intelligible. You just have to make the effort, and the “joy of the Lord will become your strength.”