The Christmas season is an interesting time when your name is Joy. As a child I did not appreciate the connection between my name and the holiday. I resented it, actually. I hated when classmates used my name in song to tease and taunt. I wanted to disappear into the background when family referred to me as joyful, joyous or joybells. It felt like my name was not my own, but belonged to something—or someone—else. And I wanted ANYTHING, but yet another Christmas ornament with my name on it.
One of the narratives of my upbringing was also a play on my name, Joy. “Jesus, Others, and You! What a wonderful way to spell J-O-Y!” This little lyric repeated often in my presence (I often wondered if my brothers or cousins heard it repeated to them also or if it was just for me!) was not just a cute colloquialism meant to encourage a life of selfless service, instead I took it as law. As a good Scandinavian and a child of the prairie, I knew that work was worship. Work for the Lord, work on behalf of and benefiting others, achievement in the name of service. If these two letters “J” and “O” were accomplished, then the “Y” was assumed. I learned to set aside my fears, insecurities, but most of all my desires and my own needs. The Lord would honor my priorities. He would be so pleased with my pious sacrifice because I had put him first and given to everyone around me all that I had that joy would be found in the results of my righteousness. What resulted over and over in my life was anything that resembled a positive emotion. Rather than joy, I found myself burned out, exhausted, and again, resentful. It seemed this name was not a blessing, but a constant demand for expectations that I just couldn’t seem to meet. There is nothing worse than a name that also expresses a feeling or emotion that often seemed impossible to muster. So I also learned to put on my Joy face and stuff the other things deep down inside.
It wasn’t until I became an adult–on my own and away from childhood friends, the gigantic family that filled our church every holiday season, and the comfort of my grandparents living room where the larger than life tree stood at the window where you could see its lights all the way down Main Street—that I longed for those ornaments. They had become like dear friends to me: Reminders of all of the things that had made me who I am. Joy.
I still struggled with the weight of this name. I even wanted to use my middle name, Elizabeth, instead of my actual first name so as to give myself a new identity apart from the expectations, the joyfulness that I just couldn’t seem to live up to without faking it. And then I discovered Advent. Yes, I had often heard this word and we had the countdown calendar with the bad chocolate hidden inside as children, but I really discovered this season. Advent: The season of anticipation and waiting for the promise of the Savior, the one who would rescue us from all of that which steals our joy in this fallen world. And it was then I discovered Elizabeth, of the Bible, whose name I longed for to be my own. She too had the weight of expectation upon her: righteousness demanded because of family line and her husband’s occupation, her role as a woman in a culture that required her to have a child if she was to be cared for in her old age or potential widowhood. Barren. No amount of effort, trying, or begging the God of Israel had yielded the desired results. And then one day all of the waiting, the anticipation, the hope and the longing were fulfilled. She would have a child—not just for her—but to precede the one greater who was yet to come. He would fill the space between the now and the not yet. He would announce the coming of the Savior and prepare the way. Her child. Her son. Her joy.
And when her cousin, Mary stood before Elizabeth, the child inside of her leapt for joy. For even in the womb, this promise, this answer, this fulfillment was not just for her, but for what was even greater to come. Elizabeth’s joy did not come from checking all of the boxes and finally achieving what was required of her to earn her place. Her joy came from the realization that her promise was just the beginning of something so much greater.
When I feel the weight of the world upon my shoulders and the joy for which I was so blessed to be named fleeting, I turn not to J-Jesus, O-Others, and Y-You expectation of how I might achieve Joy, but rather to the season of anticipation exemplified by the other woman for whom I am named, Elizabeth. The one who waited. The one who did not find her fulfillment in expectations of her, but in the promise of the God who was faithful to her, personally and as a result to the nations. I long for the season of Advent as one where I can reflect upon the promises given to me—those fulfilled and those yet to come and know that my joy is not found in what I do for the Lord or for others, but rather in living a life of Holy expectation of how the Savior will fulfill all of the desires of my heart in preparation for what is to come in this season and the next. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. And in this message are the good tidings of great joy which is to all people.
Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!