Caught by Joy
1 Peter 1:3-9
There is the tale of “Squirrel Nutkin.” This is a Beatrix Potter book that starts out:
This is a Tale about a tail—a tail that belonged to a little red squirrel, and his name was Nutkin. He had a brother called Twinkleberry, and a great many cousins: they lived in a wood at the edge of a lake.
In the middle of the lake there is an island covered with trees and nut bushes; and amongst those trees stands a hollow oak-tree, which is the house of an owl who is called Old Brown.
One autumn when the nuts were ripe, and the leaves on the hazel bushes were golden and green—Nutkin and Twinkleberry and all the other little squirrels came out of the wood, and down to the edge of the lake.
They made little rafts out of twigs, and they paddled away over the water to Owl Island to gather nuts.
Each squirrel had a little sack and a large oar, and spread out his tail for a sail.
They also took with them an offering of three fat mice as a present for Old Brown, and put them down upon his door-step.
Then Twinkleberry and the other little squirrels each made a low bow, and said politely—
“Old Mr. Brown, will you favor us with permission to gather nuts upon your island?”
But Nutkin was excessively impertinent in his manners. He bobbed up and down like a little red CHERRY, singing—
“Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote!
A little wee man, in a red red coat!
A staff in his hand, and a stone in his throat;
If you’ll tell me this riddle, I’ll give you a groat.”
Now this riddle is as old as the hills; Mr. Brown paid no attention whatever to Nutkin. He shut his eyes obstinately and went to sleep.
The squirrels filled their little sacks with nuts, and sailed away home in the evening.
The story continues on to color in the squirrel’s activities of autumn and returning to the island to gather nuts. Each time Nutkin is as rude and impertinent to the great Owl as before; until finally the owl, Old Brown, snatches Nutkin up by the tail and prepares to turn him into his dinner for the evening.
Well, Nutkin escapes but at the price of his tail; which broke off. The tale ends with these words:
And to this day, if you meet Nutkin up a tree and ask him a riddle, he will throw sticks at you, and stamp his feet and scold, and shout—
You may know of CS Lewis, who authored “The Chronicles of Narnia, –The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Mere Christianity,” “The Screwtape Letters,” as well as many other books.
In his book “Surprised by Joy” Lewis wrote of his life and his conversion to Christianity. In it he mentions the significant affect that the tale of Squirrel Nutkin always had on him. He said that whenever he read it, it had a way of making him yearn for the season of Autumn again. He would return back to the book to stir the memories of the colors of the trees, the smell of the fallen leaves, or crunch of twigs under foot. That is my words and not Lewis, but the point Lewis was examining was how certain things and moments of life have a way of rekindling the experience for the memory and the feelings of past events; to the point that one gets a longing for what was once known. He rather abstractly talked about a memory of a memory. It is like something that reminds you of what it feels like to be in love for the first time. The moment can be fleeting, and past cannot be recaptured, but the reality of the feeling is real.
For him these wishful moments of yearning for beauty, love, connection, and reconnection; that seem to come and then quickly go he defined as Joy. They were moments of deeper being and transcendence; unlike happiness or pleasure. They remind us of what is right with life.
In a letter written by Lewis, he put it like this:
“Real joy seems to me almost as unlike security or prosperity as it is unlike agony,” he writes.
“It jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’ nights. It shocks one awake when the other puts one to sleep. My private table is one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure.”
Joy was the deeper momentary awareness of something more. These moments of being surprised by joy tend to jostle the soul. It was this feeling that life contained something more that kept driving Lewis to search for what it was and how to gain more of it.
This was significant, because Lewis ultimately discovered the true nature and purpose of joy and its place in his own life when he came to Christianity. He came to realize that these moments of Joy he was discovering in odd and unpredictable moments of life were not the thing itself, but something that was the result of someone who was greater. To put it more directly Lewis discovered that God was the creator of Joy. Joy was like the footprints of where God had passed. Lewis writes, “Joy is like a “signpost” to those lost in the woods, pointing the way, and its appearance is not as important “when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles.”
It was Lewis’ awareness of joy in fleeting moments that led him to the creator of joy. His moments of transcendence in this life ended up directing him to the one who fills all of life. He found what truly counted. When you are living within God’s calling for you, the presence of joy is one of the things you can expect. That deep transcended reality of being is the fruit of Spirit. We begin to see God everywhere. That is joy.
Have you been surprised by Joy?
The disciples were. How must they have felt when Jesus died. All the hopes and dreams they had placed with him were gone seemed to have died with him. The book was closed and no more could be written, but then Jesus appeared to them and life with him all started again and never ended! That realization of something more; that God is with us is Joy –it is a life and power that world cannot take away. Can you hear the Joy in the words from 1 Peter?
1 Peter 1:3-9 (NRSV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 In this you rejoice,…
8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Sometimes joy might just sneak up on you and sometimes joy might just surprise you, but in God’s presence and work within you, joy is always present. There is something strange going on around here. There is something more than the eye can see, there is a hope and a life that is unstoppable and always new.
For Thomas, who must have been a pragmatist and a rather concrete fellow, Jesus had no hesitation in his appearing to say, “Hey Thomas, grasp my hands and touch my side. Don’t doubt, but believe.” Thomas’ exclamation upon seeing Jesus was one of joy. “My Lord and my God.” At some point I am not sure how Jesus could have kept himself from smiling at Thomas. Like when you pull a good joke on friend, and you both find a reason to laugh together. Maybe the Bible doesn’t say it but surely one of the other disciples afterwards smile at Thomas and said man you should have seen the look on your face. See we told you it was true.
God is with us. This is true. How can we not “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.” So today, tomorrow, and the next, go ahead and laugh a bid. Let God’s trick of life get under your ribs and tickle its way down your back.
That is what today is about. It is a reminder to us of what is truly important. We no longer walk this life alone. We no longer march toward an unknown destination. We now know that Earth and the things of this Earth are not “the end all and be all” of our existence. There is something more.
Rather, God is alive. God is alive in you, and as surely as Jesus lives so shall we! And that is a pretty good trick. In this life, come what may, there is joy. Amen.