Overwhelmed with Great Joy
“Epiphany—isn’t that the thing right after Christmas?” Well yes, anonymous roommate (…Alyssa), that’s one definition of it. More accurately, it’s the liturgical season that celebrates how many, many years ago, the Magi followed a star to find Jesus—God incarnate (Matthew 2:1-12). Upon reaching Jesus, they presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told what the latter two of those things are, but I can’t remember for the life of me. Fortunately, that’s not the most important part of the Epiphany story, nor the part that stands out the most to me. The part that really strikes me is described immediately before the verse that mentions gold and those two hard-to-spell words:
Matthew 2:10 says, “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”
Overwhelmed. Now that’s a word with lots of negative connotation. Synonyms include: crushed, defeated, overpowered…the list of scary words goes on. When I think of being overwhelmed, I picture drowning in homework and thesis research. I think about the fact that I don’t have any concrete plans for a year from now; how I don’t even know where I want to live, if I want an “adult” job, or if I want to travel the world. But to do that, I’d need money, and wait, I don’t have any of that. I can feel my heart palpitating just thinking about it. Talk about feeling overwhelmed.
Basically, the noun that I immediately associate with ‘overwhelmed’ is ‘stress’. But in the early verses of Matthew 2, the Magi are “overwhelmed with joy”. Overwhelmed…with joy. Now THAT sounds amazing—to be stunned at the sight of the star pausing in the sky. To be overcome with emotion, that in just a few moments, the Savior of the world would be seen. To be utterly and completely amazed in the moment when they knelt at the side of Jesus and felt his love and power.
Those italicized words? All synonyms of ‘overwhelmed’—but the good kind—the ones that make you smile and give you heart palpitations of excitement.
Depending the season of life that you’re in right now, it might be easy to get overwhelmed with worry and stress. But in this season of Epiphany, remember that there are all kinds of joy in the world to get amazed by: nature, relationships and community, new knowledge, music… Even the little things can incite great happiness—from the beauty of icicles hanging in the Washington Avenue bridge to the way your friends laugh at your imitation of Cartman from South Park.
So, in this season of Epiphany, reach for the things in your life that have the ability to overwhelm you with joy. Let yourself be surrounded by light and be a source of joy for other people. And when you feel yourself slipping under the waves in the sea of stress, think of the Magi and their focus on the star that guided them to Jesus. Follow your own source of light, be thankful for the journey, and you too will be “overwhelmed with great joy”.