Joy at Christmas and all year.
The second gift I would like to give you for Christmas is something that our world needs a whole lot more of—not just at Christmas, but all year round—Joy! [Yes, there was a preceding Gift of Christmas ~ contentment … got it?]
The angels so long ago said, ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be for all the people!” What were those angels saying, what did they mean about joy for you, joy for me? Joy can be difficult to define … difficult to describe, but so often we start by saying, ‘you know, its like happiness!’ ‘Hmmm . . . interesting, that this past Sunday’s New York Times had two different articles related to happiness (which means it is obviously a subject we care to discuss!): one stating that for the second year in a row, Denmark has been named the happiest country1, and the other article discussing the formula for happiness. Interestingly enough, the Times’ article2 suggested that 40% of our happiness quotient is genetic, while the rest is divided between our recent past, and four values of faith, family, community and work.
But – is happiness the same thing as joy? Well, sure it is related, but would you rather have joy or happiness? Hmmm . . .
In order to get at the heart of Joy, here are a few things I know about it:
Joy is ~ not about personality or temperament ~ I’ve heard folks say, ‘Oh, it’s easy for you to be joyful—it’s just your personality. You’re bubbly, and besides, you’ve got a great life!’ Joy is not about personality.
Joy must be experienced in the moment; you can’t save it up, it is not for tomorrow or next week. The psalmist said, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.”3
Joy is not dependent on circumstances, which is why Paul could rejoice, even while in a cruel Roman prison~the reason he could say “I learned to be content whatever the circumstances …”4 Happiness tends to depend more on external goings-on—that is to say, on circumstances; but as circumstances are always changing, so happiness has the potential to elude us, sorta’ like the bubble that we reach up to grab, only to find it popping in our hand. Joy is just not that flimsy.
Another thing … Joy seems to be inextricably tied to hope. Hope keeps joy alive; it feeds it. One current-day rabbi said, ‘happiness as defined by our culture has become just a synonym for pleasure . . .’ ah, sadly, that does seem true, doesn’t it?
Happiness, at some point—sooner or later, is fleeting, while joy is lasting. I like what the ol’ preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said on the difference between joy and happiness, “That word joyful is a very sweet and clear one. Happiness is a very dainty word, but yet it is somewhat insecure because it begins with a ‘hap,’ and seems to depend on a chance which may happen to the soul. We say ‘happy-go-lucky’, and that is very much the world’s happiness. It is a kind of thing that may hap and may not hap. But there is no hap in joy. When we are joyful or full of joy, and that of the best kind, we are favored indeed. No man takes this joy from us . . . it is a celestial fruit, and earth cannot produce its like. (It is helpful to know that happiness is derived from the Latin word, ‘hap’. Hap means hap-hazard . . . hmmm . . .)
Joy is linked with the heart of God — yea, it comes from the heart of God, because at the heart of God are all things good. For some, that is hard to swallow because maybe religious or judgmental Christians have painted God as austere, far-off, possibly vindictive, or as a cosmic killjoy—when he is none of those.
Listen, when the angels appeared to the shepherds that night so long ago, what did they say—“Joy is meant for you shepherds tonight”? No, they said, ‘Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all the people!’ My dear friends, joy was meant for all of us! What was the news of great joy? A Savior!
And that is the second gift I wish to give you this Christmas ~ the joy of living life in relationship with the Savior of the world, that Baby born 2,000+ years ago in a damp manger—the joy of doing life with the King of Kings, who is yet the Lover of our Souls. O, He is good … He is great, and life with him, is nothing less than joyful!
Two gifts I wish for you this Christmas ~ Contentment and Joy! Walking with the Savior, choosing to give thanks, rightly ordering our priorities . . . ‘I bring you good tiding of great joy’ the angel said, but good tidings meant for you 2,000 years later! Wherever you find yourself, whatever continent, ethnicity, whatever temperament or personality . . . these are the gifts of God. The gifts of contentment and joy are from the heart of a loving Father to his dear children … got ‘em? I pray so!
1 “Where Joy is Always in Season”, Veronica Hackethal, New York Times, Sunday, December 15, 2013.
2 “A Formula for Happiness,” Arthur C. Brooks, New York Times, Sunday, December 15, 2013.
3 Psalm 118.24
4 Philippians 4.11