Could it be that in our devotion, repentance and desperation we have not understood the holiness of joy?

We are not unlike Israel at the time of Nehemiah. Nearly everyone who belonged to Israel had become a slave in Babylon. The holy city Jerusalem had been abandoned and destroyed. Called by God, Nehemiah led a movement that brought people back to rebuild the centre of worship and restore the walls around their holy city. At the dedication ceremony God’s Word was read aloud by the teaching pastor Ezra. This was a forgotten practice of God’s people.

Nehemiah 8:
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

The people were listening to the Law of God and were painfully aware of their non-compliance. Have you ever felt that sense of falling short of what God requires? I have and it causes me to shed tears.

When you have failed God and are truly sorry, there is a reverence and sadness that combine into solemn gratitude. It is the lowly self-deprecation of the returning prodigal. I am not worthy and will assume the role of lowest servant. We do not trust in our happier emotions, believing that the pursuit of happiness may have been what led us into bondage in the first place.

But then, Ezra says something truly strange to them. “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.”

Did you notice where the attention is now directed? This day of return is not a somber day to the Father. The lost have been found and the dead have risen. Heaven is rejoicing over their return.