Alright. I’m told confession is good for the soul, so here goes.
Without fail, every time I see a news broadcast featuring a cluster of families gathered together at an airport, holding up Welcome Home! signs and awaiting the arrival of their loved ones, men and women of the armed services, I get emotional. After the soldiers arrive on the scene to cheers and tears, and hugs and kisses—well, in a matter of seconds, I get a little misty-eyed. Every single time.
Regardless of your feelings/opinions/thoughts about the military and war or even rumors of war, those reunions are heart-wrenching. If you’re not moved by them, even a little, you might want to get a check-up, because the odds are good something’s a bit off. Just the idea of those we dearly love being in harm’s way and then returning home, safe and sound, should stir something within us. Such homecomings are inevitably marked by joy.
And joy is exactly the word Jeremiah used to describe the exiles’ return from captivity: “They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will be radiant with joy” (Jeremiah 31:12). Yet here’s the thing with joy when it comes to God’s people returning home: their joy would not have been anywhere near as joyous had there not been significant hardship preceding it. For God’s people, there was horrible darkness before the light, heartbreaking gloom before the brightness. Weeping and mourning, moaning and grief, lament and bitterness, ashamed and humiliated, terror and trouble, pain and guilt—these are the words Jeremiah used to describe their captivity.
Such stories are wise reminders for those of us who claim the name of “Christian.” One of the words that should describe our lives is joy, but that joy doesn’t reflect a hardship-free life by any means. Our lives are in no way exempt from the harm and heartache common to all men, women, and children. The difference is the way we live in light of that reality. It was the way that God’s people, even in the midst of all their trouble, were called to live while in captivity: with hope. That hope in God and His promises is what set the stage for the looks on their faces as they made their way back home, radiantly marked with joy.
Written by John Blase