Joyful Sobriety

Timon Studler, Unsplash

To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:16-19, NIV)

People of faith constantly surprise a watching world. John the Baptist lived a life of somber asceticism, and so people assumed he was crazy, even demonized. Jesus joyfully engaged with society’s unacceptables, joining them for food and drink, and people dismissed him as a libertine. We never quite match the mood of the mob, much like those kids trying to determine what genre the crowd wants to hear. Country? Indie? Metal?

I don’t think this should be true of John and Jesus only. Like our Lord and his cousin, we should stand out from the crowd. Because we know the eternal, we react to the everyday a bit differently.

In moments of cultural elation, we remember (and lament) the brokenness of the world, the plight of humanity, and the urgent task before us. That tempers our elation. We bring a holy sobriety even into revelry.

In moments of cultural despair, we remember (and celebrate) the triumph of the Lamb, the promises of God, and the hope of resurrection. That tempers our despair. We bring an expectant joy even into tears.

As Christians, we should be marked by joyful sobriety (or sober joy). Holding the two in tension, we’ll never quite “fit” the moment. But our very distinctiveness may be what God uses to catch the world’s attention. We will be people the world can’t ignore, to borrow a line from our Family Ministry. When they ask us why we look somber when the culture is rejoicing, or joyful when the culture is despairing, we will have opportunity to explain the fullness of the gospel—and the wonder of the Friend (there’s the joy!) of sinners (there’s the sobriety!).

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