This day is holy to God. Don't feel bad. The joy of God is your strength! (Nehemiah 7:10)
This verse is one I've known since childhood. The whole book of Nehemiah resonates with me. I heard one very memorable sermon on the gates that the Israelites rebuilt. We sang "the joy of the Lord is your strength" as a praise chorus, repeating it with the sounds of laughter--"ha-ha-ha-ha-ha"--until the rush of oxygen made us giddy.
It's the kind of verse I usually skip, because I associate it with my childhood, and because it fits in with the fake-smile personality we sometimes experience at church.
But today it captured my attention. The Jews came together to get to know God's Word better. Think of it like a revival week-long revival meeting.
Some of the people came under conviction and couldn't stop crying. When we become aware of sin, we have a heavy spirit.
And God said to stop weeping.
The reason? This day is holy to God.
Holiness=joy does not compute for me. I tend to think of holiness in terms of rules, restrictions, the "thou shalt nots" of life.
In this passage, holiness is celebrated with feast, song, offerings. The completion of a job well done made it a holy day.
Maybe like the day I receive one of my completed books in my hands--that kind of a day.
The joy of holiness is like getting my new book in the mail. Wow.
Our "holy" days, Christmas, Resurrection Sunday, even Thanksgiving, are times of celebration. In our efforts to "keep Christ in Christmas," we can go too far in emphasizing the spiritual aspects of the day and not the celebration.
On our journey to holiness, we have many occasions for joyful celebration. The joy of the Lord is our strength as we struggle forward in life, and each tiny victory--from the first day of school to graduation, from the first devotion written on this blog to a full year, from repentance of sin to long-lasting victory--deserves a joy-filled celebration.
Celebrate the journey! And God gives us the strength to continue.