We’ve made it to the 3rd Sunday of Advent! In many advent traditions, today a candle will be lit symbolizing Joy. That’s a word we often use at Christmas, right? Joy to the World! Joyful and triumphant. Tidings of comfort & Joy. But what is Joy? Is it more than a smile and twinkle in Santa’s eye? Is it more than an emotional high we get when we open that new present?
Not to offer too much of a commentary on modern society, but as a whole, we are miserable. We are the most depressed, anxious, and medicated we’ve ever been. As someone who struggles with depression, I think I can say that in fairness. With all the blessings we have, homes, jobs, toys and gadgets, by and large, Americans are miserable. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of joy going around, does there?
I would argue that a significant part of the problem is we have been taught to pursue happiness as if it is life’s highest goal. It is, after all, the plot of every Hallmark movie this season, finding real happiness. It is the cause of many shipwrecked relationships: “sure I care about X but I’m just not happy.” And every young person is told to not settle for a job unless it “makes you happy.” Fiddlesticks. Or rather in keeping with the season, humbug.
Happiness is nice, but it’s over before you know it. That’s because happiness is dependent on happenings, on what is going on right now. It is fleeting, a feeling we chase and can hold on to no more than we can grasp the tides in our hand. Joy, on the other hand, well joy is a deeper feeling. It abides deep within a person’s soul and is not dependent on emotions or circumstances. It is a state of being. That is because, especially at Christmas, we who follow Christ realize that Joy is found in Jesus.
Look at a few familiar verses in Luke 2:8-11: “8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”
I can’t imagine that being a shepherd was a regular nine-to-five celebration. Sheep stink, sheep are stupid, and sheep aren’t cooperative. Kind of like us sometimes, hmm. But I digress. Being a shepherd wasn’t the most sought-after career. It was important work, but no one decided to be a shepherd based on their desire to be happy. It just needed to be done. But while doing their work, their mundane routine, something amazing happened! Angels appeared to them and told them about the birth of Jesus.
“Good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” This joy wasn’t just for shepherds but for everyone, for Jews and Gentiles. Why? Because a Savior has come. This is no ordinary baby that you send a card to the parents. No, this baby is worth getting up, disrupting your plans, and going to see. And that’s precisely what they did.
And as they left, they weren’t just happy. “Oh that’s a nice baby. He has his mother’s eyes.” No, Luke tells us that they went back to they lives, forever changed. Not because they got a promotion or got to come in from the fields, but because they saw the Messiah. They went back to their fields “glorifying and praising God.”
Sometimes the pressures of life, and especially the holidays, can get to us. There is so much extra piled onto our already busy lives. We get so busy trying to create happiness that we crow out joy. Joy that endures long after the last gift has been opened and the ornaments have been put away. Joy that endures the harsh, dark winter. Joy that keeps us going through difficult days.
Don’t mistake happiness for joy this year. Seek the Joy that is found in Jesus