When the Wise Men arrived to find the child with Mary and Joseph they:
Rejoiced exceedingly with great joyMatthew 2.10
Which I think is just about the most wonderful expression I’ve heard in a long time. There’s something about the way the Bible uses language that even in translation is beautiful. I can’t remember the last time I stopped while preaching to just sit with beautiful language and remark on its beauty. I can’t remember hearing anyone else do that either.
I think we might be missing something. If Alastair Roberts is right that learning to read the Bible is like learning to listen to music, or if Peter Leithart is right that learning to read the Bible is like developing a sense of humour, then the answer isn’t always to explain. When you explain a joke the humour slips away, funnily enough.
The funny thing is ‘rejoiced exceedingly with great joy’ isn’t great writing. Not by our conventional standards anyway. I was reading this passage for our Christmas Carol Service, and on my first take to camera stopped when I read that to say, “wow”. It’s triply redundant. That in my book is bad writing, and what I often fail to cut out of my own. Except it isn’t. When you wrote the rules, you can break them.
I had a dig around in the Greek thinking there would be something interesting there that would translate it more esoterically. Not really. The NIV goes for “they were overjoyed” which is better English style, but the Greek does what the ESV following the KJV does with the translation I quoted. Joy very Joy.
People sometimes critique the ESV for its poor English style, or for being hard to read. I don’t really get it; better English style sometimes strips the beauty of a text that’s stood for thousands of years. But then, I’m an odd duck, I’d happily translate the Hebrew of (for example) Gen 2.17, commonly rendered “you shall surely die” as “you shall die die”. Which is literal, but maybe not so helpful if you don’t have any grasp of Hebrew idiom.
It’s probably a good thing I don’t have the right skills to be a Bible translator.
That was a long digression to reach the point I wanted to make:
The magi see Jesus and they rejoice. Wonderful! I would too. But they don’t, they rejoice exceedingly. OK, I’d like to think I would too? But in fact they don’t do that either, they rejoice exceedingly with great joy.
When did I last react to Jesus with an overflow of joy so manifestly profound that it requires that level of superlative?
I may be stretching the Greek a little at this point—I’m reading it through the lens of English style, which is inappropriate—but feel the force of my point at least: when did you last feel joy like that?
I’m writing this in the last gasps (Ed: It wasn’t) of English Lockdown, and by the time it’s edited and posted we should be largely free (we’ll see how this comment ages…) of it. It has not been a time for joy. When joy is thin, what can we do?
I’ve written a list below of things that help me develop joy—not make me happy, but turn my heart towards Jesus and help me praise him—read mine and then write your own.
Joy Fuel: a list
- Gather with the assembled church
- Eat the body and drink the blood of Christ
- Sing with your brothers and sisters. Allow yourself to dance, or if you’re too British, sway out of time.
- Hear the word preached with an open Bible.
- Lay hands on others and watch the Spirit fall.
- Have hands laid on you and enjoy the presence of God.
- Sit around a table with good friends and good wine. Good beer or scotch work too.
- Look at trees.
- Look at Magnolia trees and wonder at the gospel in miniature.
- Write poetry.
- Play music with rocks in loudly while your wife is out.
- Open the Bible with others and discuss it.
- Read the Bible out loud.
- Hear the Bible read out loud.
- Cultivate simple thankfulness
- Grow something, or watch someone else do so. Cook it and eat it.
- Build something until your muscles ache.
- Think about eggs. Seriously, they’re ridiculous.
- Read a story that understands story: where the heroes are tired men against impossible odds who fight anyway, because if they don’t who will?
Your joy needs fuel, especially in hard days. What’s on your list?
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