Joyful Are Those

Joyful Are Those
Photo Credit: The World of Banksy Art

Guest Post by Emily Hill

This year I’m sensing and processing the season of advent in a way that I never have before.

My soul is filled with mourning and grief over racial injustice in our individual lives and in our nation. The evidence and emotion in this area are building and I wonder when we will reach the tipping point. When will all of the outcry lead to a change? In addition to this, my heart is heavy with the continued violence against women around the world and aches with those who are suffering in their daily lives and relationships.

During this longing and pain filled season I find myself drawn to the Beatitudes—though it might not be a typical text for advent.

I’m asking anew, what does this familiar, beautiful text really mean? How do we interpret them and how do we apply them? The late theologian Glen Stassen argues that they are far from being high-minded ideals that we must strive for or legalistic requirements, as some Christians interpret them. Rather, consistent with Old Testament understanding, prophetic writing, and the life and ministry of Christ, they are the proclamation of the good news of the reign of God.

He writes, “The Sermon on the Mount is not first of all about what we should do. It is first of all about what God is already doing. It is about God’s presence, the breakthrough of God’s kingdom in Jesus. It is about God’s grace, God’s loving deliverance form various kinds of bondage in the vicious cycles we get stuck in, and deliverance into community with God and others.[1]

Based on his research about the original Greek words and the context of their use in relation to the reign of God throughout scripture, Stassen translates the Beatitudes this way:

Joyful are those who are poor and humble before God,
for theirs is the reign of God.
Joyful are those who are deeply saddened to the point of action,
for they will be comforted.
Joyful are those whose wills are surrendered to God,
for they will inherit the earth.
Joyful are those who hunger and thirst for restorative justice,
for they will be filled.
Joyful are those who practice compassion in action,
for they will receive God’s compassion.
Joyful are those who seek God’s will in all that they are and do,
for they will see God.
Joyful are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Joyful are those who suffer because of working for restorative justice,
for theirs is the reign of God.
Joyful are you when they criticize, persecute, and
slander you, because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in God.
For in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you. [2]

Those who are poor and humble before God are not rewarded because being poor and humble is somehow more virtuous. Rather, they experience joy because God is acting on their behalf. The poor and humble, those who thirst for justice, who are moved to compassionate action, who seek peace and restoration, are joyful because God is gracious and God is acting to deliver them.

This is the good news. It’s not about what we do, but what God is doing already. Joy, peace, comfort, and God’s presence are the promises of the kingdom. Though it’s ultimate fulfillment is yet to come, it is not a future action alone, God is acting now and delivering now. He is giving joy, peace, and fulfillment now.

The good news of Christ, our hope in the advent and in our present struggles, is that Christ is delivering us. He is making all things new.

Hope in the promise is the anchor for our souls. But it is an active hope, not a passive hope. God calls us to live in accordance with the promise and bear witness to his reconciliation in the community of the church in the world. When I’m lost and overwhelmed I need to live expectantly. I need to look for God’s work of deliverance and how I can act alongside it.

This is a truth we can put our faith in as we wait for the birth of Christ and the coming of justice: God is working. Though the work of racial reconciliation is difficult and overwhelming, I can be assured that God is at work and I can look for ways to participate with him.

When we act faithfully in accordance with this truth, God reveals himself to us. By participating in his kingdom we find our truest joy.

Joyful are those who are deeply saddened to the point of action, for they will be comforted.
Joyful are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Joyful are those who suffer because of restorative justice, for theirs is the reign of God.

So in this season of longing and anticipation, I pray for more of God’s deliverance for you, for me, and for the world. I pray for more of God’s joy and comfort. I wait expectantly and I pray for the ability to act expectantly.

[1] Glen H. Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount (San Francisco: Wiley Press, 2006), 8.

[2] Stassen details the research behind his translation in Chapter 3 of Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Guide for Grace and Deliverance.



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