I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
Today is the third Sunday in Advent, and we will be considering Joy. Joy and happiness are closely related. Happiness today refers to the feelings of contentment and delight derived from physical experiences, people, achievements, and other external happenings. Joy is the feeling of contentment and satisfaction derived from an inner connection to gratitude, caring for, and serving others.
In modern times, we know happiness as temporary, fleeting, and based upon outer circumstances. Joy is lasting and based upon inner circumstances and is an attitude of the heart. Although Joy is one of the gifts of the Spirit, happiness is not an inferior unspiritual emotion we avoid or condemn. Happiness may be based upon ‘happenings,’ but God still intends for us to experience it.
As Christians, we can hear that happiness needs to take a back seat to joy; joy is the superior emotion and state of mind. Maybe so, but that is not Biblical. The Bible often uses the words ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ together. Ester 8:16 tells us: “…it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor.” Then in Jeremiah 31:13: I will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and [bring] happiness out of grief.
The Hebrew word ashrê is translated as “blessed,” but it also means ‘flourishing’ or ‘happy.’ Ashrê is used throughout the Psalms and Proverbs to describe the happy state of those who live wisely according to God’s design. Each beatitude of Christ could be read as “Happy are they who…,” instead of blessed are they who “hunger and thirst.”
Biblically then, ashrê, or true ‘happiness,’ is not based upon happenings at all, but is born of obedience to God’s word, through aligning with God’s kingdom, and a relationship with God. It is self-contained, not dependent on ‘out there.’ Although Biblical happiness casts light on human flourishing, it cannot happen without our relationship with God. So, happiness is what we think it is, and more than what we think it is.
Joy and Happiness are gifts from God; they are both important. It is God’s plan for us to be happy and prosperous, as well as joyous and abundant in all areas of our lives. Just as it is not a sin or spiritual misstep to be wealthy, it is not wrong to want to be happy. Monetary wealth is just part of God’s desire for us to have abundance. Similarly, happiness is part of God’s desire for us to be joyful; they are subsets of each other. There is more to joy than just happiness; there is more to abundance than just a bank statement. I think of happiness as the joy of God that expresses through our faces; it is the outer representation of our inner joy.
Happiness is more affected by our balance of attention. If we focus exclusively on happiness, on what happens in our lives to bring us joy, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, grief, and unhappiness. We may even tip to the point where all we seek is pleasure, and this can become a very dark path. God wants our joy to flow from an inner connection with Spirit. That is part of the reason Jesus came to this earth; that is why we celebrate the rebirth of Christ … to experience the Divine Joy that is beyond the World.
Joy is permanent and stable. Through our focus, connection, and awareness of Christ we can lose our possessions and still be in a state of joy and inner bliss. We can experience all of life’s trials and still rejoice. As James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”
By attuning to Christ, we raise our awareness above that of the world. I’ve heard this referred to as “raising the vibrations of our thoughts”. Since science tells us that everything vibrates, and some believe that Spirit vibrates more quickly than anything else, then as we elevate our thoughts, quicken our thoughts, we move toward Spirit and attune our minds and hearts to God.
When we raise our thinking beyond the world our spiritual nature advances toward the joy of God, and this allows the ups and downs, and ins and outs of the world to pass below us. The events of the world have no effect upon our state of joy when we connect to Christ. We may not always be humanly happy with a big smile on our face, but we can remain ever poised in the Joy of God with a smile on our heart regardless of our conditions while walking the earth in these bodies.
James goes on to say in 1:3-4, “… because you know that the trying of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God is fair, compassionate, and all-knowing. His plans are not our plans; His thoughts are not our thoughts. When we say, “I’ve had enough,” God says, “Just a bit more. I’ll give you the strength to see it through because there is more to learn, more knowledge and maturity to be gained. You are not done yet.”
Despite the challenges of the world, God has plans to use our experiences for our benefit and maturity. In that knowledge we can find joy – that God is working through us, making all things come together on our behalf. God is not punishing us; He is grooming us, pruning us, and burnishing us to a fine luster. Christ promises that his joy will fill us, and our joy will be complete; it will overflow.
Worldly happiness is expecting what is “out there” to fulfill us. So, we look to people, opinions, attitudes, places, events, and things, to align with our expectations. We wish each other a “Happy Thanksgiving,” a “Merry Christmas,” a “Happy Hanukah,” or a “Happy Holidays,” and those wishes are dependent upon good things happening - good food, good family times, good fun.
But to wish someone a joyous Christmas or a joyous New Year is different. We pray for a mindset, a state of the heart, and a higher awareness of who they are and how they fit in. Yes, we want them to be happy, for good things to happen, but we also want them to remain joyous in the inevitable times when they are not happy.
Our yearly celebration of Christ offers us a path to joy, and we can choose it or reject it. Joy is trusting God when we want to doubt, accepting what is offered when we want to refuse it. Joy is serving when we want to be served; giving when we want to take. Joy is daring to celebrate when we want to hide in fear, doubt, or shame.
The word ‘enthusiasm’ derives from the Greek word entheos, meaning “God within, or divinely inspired.” When we express joy and enthusiasm, we express the God within us. Of the many names used to describe Christ Jesus, one was Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” This thought helps us elevate our state of mind and heart.
My prayer is that we choose Joy, that we accept the gifts of Christ - the Hope, the Peace, and the Joy. I pray that we embrace the concept that the Joy of the Lord is our strength, and acknowledge the idea expressed by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
So, it is my prayer that we use Joy as an affirmation: an affirmation that despite all the lessons and challenges that the world offers – through Christ joy wins, love wins, peace wins, we win.