The books of the Old Testament predicted that the joy of salvation would abound in messianic times. The prophet Isaiah exultantly salutes the awaited Messiah: “You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy” (9:3). He exhorts those who dwell on Zion to go forth to meet him with song: “Shout aloud and sing for joy!” (12:6). The prophet tells those who have already seen him from afar to bring the message to others: “Get you up to a high mountain, O herald of good tidings to Zion; lift up your voice with strength, O herald of good tidings to Jerusalem” (40:9). All creation shares in the joy of salvation: “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth! Break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones” (49:13).
Other prophets give reason for the joy: a God who is concerned for the welfare of his people:
Zechariah, looking to the day of the Lord, invites the people to acclaim the king who comes “humble and riding on a donkey”: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he” (9:9).
Perhaps the most exciting invitation is that of the prophet Zephaniah, who presents God with his people in the midst of a celebration overflowing with the joy of salvation. I find it thrilling to reread this text: “The Lord, your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives you the victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing, as on a day of festival” (3:17).
This last passage cited has almost an Easter joy to it.
Are the lyrical images of the prophets enough? What about the wisdom tradition?
This is the joy which we experience daily, amid the little things of life, as a response to the loving invitation of God our Father: “My child, treat yourself well, according to your means… Do not deprive yourself of the day’s enjoyment” (Sir 14:11, 14). What tender paternal love echoes in these words!
Christian joy is certainly magnified by the Paschal Mystery, and by the graces of God that flow from that. That joy is pervasive prior to the incarnation, given the witness of the prophets and the wisdom figures of Judaism.
Is there a place for human joy based on the basic created world? If enjoyment is part of the day, one of the first things created by God, then joy should be as natural to a human being as anything else. It should be part of our post-natural presentation to others, something that stays with us after baptism and through our life as believers and disciples.