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"A joyful heart is good medicine," so says Proverbs 17:22. What does it mean to have a joyful heart? Well, the rest of verse 22 says, "but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." A joyful heart is the opposite of a crushed spirit. A crushed spirit is a despairing soul, one who has no hope. Hope in what though? Well, no hope in the mercy of Jesus, in a gracious God who loves unconditionally. To despair of the love of God is a habit that the Old Adam doesn't want you to break. To lose all hope in the forgiveness of your sins is a reality that crouches at the door and its desire is to overtake you. A crushed spirit is one who despairs of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
How then do you have a joyful heart? Well, Jesus speaks about how your crushed spirit is transformed into a joyful heart saying, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you" (John 16:20-22). Jesus comforts His Apostles as He prepares them for their denial. When Jesus was handed over, the Apostles, except for St. John, abandoned Jesus, fled, and hid out until they thought they were safe. They fled because their spirits were crushed. They fled because Jesus was taken away and their hope was drained. There was nothing that could take their sorrow, their fear, their crushed spirit away. But then, Jesus declared to them that He would rise up on the third day, and their sorrow would turn into joy, their crushed spirit would be transformed into a joyful heart. So, the only thing that can overcome your crushed spirit is the presence of Jesus, and not only His presence, but His merciful presence in the forgiveness of your sins. The only thing that can take your crushed spirit and turn it into a joyful heart is the Justifying God justifying you.
Where then does the justifying God justify you? Well, He doesn't make you guess where He's located, or make you play hide and seek until you find Him. No, Jesus promises to be found in His Gospel proclaimed and in His blessed sacraments distributed for you. He promises to be in the means of grace, the means of water, bread, wine, and mouth all combined with His Word for your salvation. Your crushed spirit is turned into a joyful heart in the forgiveness of your sins which comes to you in the means of the Gospel proclaimed, Holy Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Absolution, and in the mutual consolation of the brethren. My friends, I pray that you may have a joyful heart in the mercy of your Lord, Jesus the Christ. I pray that your sorrow may be turned into joy that knows no despair, that your hope may be unshakable because it is in your faithful and unchanging Lord Jesus. I pray that tomorrow the Holy Spirit gathers you with other crushed spirits around the means of grace in order that joyful hearts may abound in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. Let not the devil, the world, or the Old Adam continue to crush your spirit. May those forces be put to death in order that you may receive the joy that only Jesus can give to you.
Peace be with you. May the devil be silenced, the world be hushed, and the Old Adam be drowned anew so that you hear only the voice of your Savior Jesus who says, "Take heart, you who are crushed in spirit, you who know your sin and despair, for I am not a god of wrath, but of mercy, and My mercy is unconditional and for you. Take heart, I forgive you, I love you, I claim you, and I will never leave you nor forsake you," Amen.