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 fourth Sunday in Advent, and I will be speaking about Joy. Over the last one hundred years or so there has come to be a differentiation made between joy and happiness. Happiness has come to mean the feelings of contentment and delight derived from worldly experiences and happenings. Joy has come to mean those feelings of contentment and satisfaction caused by an inner connection to gratitude, caring for and serving others. We are told that happiness is most often temporary, fleeting, and based upon outer circumstances. Joy on the other hand is lasting and based upon inner circumstances and is an attitude of the heart.
As Christians, we are led to believe that happiness needs to take a back seat to joy; joy is the superior emotion and state of mind. I have to confess that I have believed this to be the case as well. But it is not Biblical; it is an attitude that has developed recently. The Bible uses the words joy and happiness together and almost synonymously. In Ester 8:16 we are told: “…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.
Although we are told that Joy is one of the gifts of Spirit, happiness is in no way an inferior unspiritual emotion to be avoided or condemned. I have come to believe that although happiness may be based upon ‘happenings’ it is something that God intends for us to experience. It is the Joy of God that expresses through our faces; it is the external representation of our inner Joy. Happiness begins ‘out there’; Joy begins in ‘here’. Happiness is the flow of God in; Joy is the flow of God out.
Joy and Happiness are spiritual gifts. 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 be happy. Monetary wealth is just part of God’s desire for us to have abundance. Happiness is part of God’s desire for us to be joyful. I think of happiness and wealth as subsets of Joy and Abundance. There is more to Joy than just happiness; there is more to Abundance than just money or a bank statement.
But they are all important. The danger lies in our focus. 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 indeed.
Christ wants us to derive our joy from an inner connection with Spirit. That is part of the reason Jesus came to this earth; that is one reason celebrate the birth of Christ … to experience the Divine Joy that is beyond the World.
It is important to be happy, because that is what God wants for us. But it is also important to be in a joyful state despite our earthly conditions. Through our focus, spiritual connection, and awareness of the inner 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 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”
By concentrating upon the inner Christ, we raise our awareness above that of the world. I like the reference to this as ‘raising the vibrations of our thoughts’. Since science tells us that everything vibrates, and many believe that Spirit vibrates more quickly than anything else, as we elevate our thoughts, quicken our thoughts, we move toward God.
So, when we raise our thinking beyond the world we advance toward the Joy of God and allow the ups and downs, ins and outs of the world to pass below us. The natural events of the world have no effect upon our state of Joy when we are connected to Christ. We may not always be happy, and not be showing that on our faces in an external manner, but we can remain ever poised in the Joy of God, with a smile in our heart, regardless of our conditions while walking the earth in these bodies.
Christ offers us a path of joy, and we can choose it or reject it. That is what we are promised: that the joy of Christ might be in us and our joy may be full, complete, to the brim. We are promised Joy, not happiness. Happiness is expecting what is “out there” to fulfill something. So, we often 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 Hanuka”, or a “Happy Holidays”. And those wishes are dependent upon good things happening for them: good food, good family times, good fun.
To wish someone a joyous Christmas or a joyous New Year is a little different. We are praying for a mindset, a state of the heart, and a higher awareness of who they are. 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 unhappy.
I remember the weddings of our children: Rebecca to Ryan and Daniel to Samantha. As with most weddings, they were happy occasions. And more than seeing our children unite happily, we watched as each couple came together joyously. Their faces spilled over with happiness, but at the same time we could feel that beyond their obvious outer happiness they were content, fulfilled, and rejoicing in their union. Each pair exuded the inner serenity of joy. It was a happy celebration of joy.
Joy trusts when we want to doubt, accepts what is offered when we want to refuse it. Joy serves when we want to be served, and gives, when we want to take. Joy dares to celebrate when we want to hide in fear.
Habakkuk, a lesser known prophet, had such an experience. In Habakkuk 3:16-19 he responds to a vision he had by saying this: 16 I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. 17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. 19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.
Habakkuk teaches us something of joy in these verses. Despite an impending invasion and lack of resources, Habakkuk chooses to rejoice in the Lord. He chooses to look passed the typical earthly sources for joy and light, and receive the light and joy of God.
Joy is the combining of peace and love, their synergy creating joy. Joy is more than peace; it is delight soaring toward ecstasy. It is more than love; it is adoration lifted to exaltation. Depending upon our personalities, our joy takes greater or lesser forms of outward expression along the excitement scale. Spiritual joy is typically a calm serene bliss, an understated elation, but it can also be outwardly exuberant.
Habakkuk’s joy arose from his faith and love in God. He made a conscious decision to rejoice in the Lord, he did not wait for conditions to improve or for some emotion over which he had no control to strike him.
I like how Habakkuk makes ‘joy’ an active verb. “I will joy in God.” I will be joy in God; I will experience, express, partake of, and completely be one with the joy of God. My being, my very essence, is joy in God.
Habakkuk says, “I will rejoice in the Lord.” The word “rejoice” means literally ‘to joy again’; to experience joy another time. Joy is not something that we find; it is something we uncover and reveal through expression. Because God is within us, Joy is our constant
partner. We choose to express it over and over.
My prayer is that we choose Joy; that we accept the gifts of Christ: the Hope, the Peace, the Love, and the Joy. I pray that we can understand that the Joy of the Lord is our strength in facing the challenges of the World, and acknowledge the idea expressed by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
I pray that we will see Joy as an affirmation: a pronouncement that despite all the lessons and challenges the world has to offer – Love wins, Peace wins, and Hope wins. Maya Angelou said, “When you wish someone joy, you wish them peace, love, prosperity, happiness…all good things.” So, to each of you, your families, and all you love, I wish you Joy, and a Merry Joyous Christmas.