Regardless of personality, most people when asked what they want out of life usually answer something like, "I want to be happy" (in addition to world peace, of course). We want to experience positive feelings. As a result, for many people, life is a pursuit towards happiness.
We try to find happiness in a number of ways, including through acquiring stuff. The advertising industry's sole reason for existence is to make us unsatisfied with what we have and to tell us what items will make us happy. Christmas Day will be a moment when presents are opened by kids around the world, both young and old (after all, the only difference between the men and the boys is the price they pay for their toys!). But we all know, that by the afternoon, many of those toys will be lying around and we will have moved on to something else.
At other times we look to fun and pleasure. The entertainment industry exists to give us positive feelings, whether through movies, sport or other experiences. Some are looking forward to upcoming new movie releases – such as The Hobbit or Les Mis – while the cricket lovers can't wait for the Boxing Day test match. But they will come and go too.
We also look for happiness in our achievements – in education or business or maybe in reaching an important goal. But these come and go too. Yes, possessions, fun and achievements create a degree of happiness, but these feelings are momentary. Before long, they have faded and we're left looking for more.
By its very definition, happiness is based on what happens to us. It is circumstantial. In contrast, joy comes from within. It moves inside-out.
I'll never forget visiting Africa 5 years ago with our family. We saw a lot of people in poverty and difficult circumstances. Our children observed how these people had nothing but were so happy (just looking at their smiles), yet back at home we all have so much but often not the same level of happiness. This reminds me of the African man who once said, "You Westerners have all the watches but we Africans have all the time." Maybe we also have all the stuff … but not as must joy.
Christmas reminds us that joy is a gift, not something we acquire or achieve. "Joy to the world, the Lord has come," the well known carol teaches us. Joy is a gift from God in the person of Jesus (John 3:16). A gift based on love – the fact that God loves us, just as we are. The One who knows us best, loves as the most. What a profound thought that can lead to great joy.
It is a gift also based on a peace beyond our ability to comprehend or figure things out. A peace that we can experience even in the midst of a storm – whether financial, relational or a storm of violence, as we have tragically seen in the recent shooting in the USA. Only God can give peace in the midst of such chaos and grief. Christian psychologist, Larry Crabb says, "Joy in Christ does not replace our suffering and pain; it supports us through it."
Finally, this joy is based on hope – hope for a better tomorrow. The world is broken and longing to be set right by God, who will bring justice to bear, and ensure that good ultimately triumphs over evil. There is a future where there will be no more suffering, crying or pain. That is our hope.
All of this is found in Christ – the gift of Christmas.
What is our response? As the carol goes on to say, "… let earth receive her king." This gift of Christmas joy from God has to be received. Reach out your hand and welcome Christ into your life. Allow his joy into your world – bringing you love, peace and hope. Let this joy fill your heart and mind then overflow to others around you. After all, Jesus wants us as his followers to know his joy (John 15:11), a joy that overflows into our broken world.
May you experience Christmas joy during this season!
… and don't let anyone or anything take that joy away from you. Watch out for irritations. In every situation ask yourself, "Is this worth losing my joy over?" Most of the time, it's not. Avoid the negativity that focuses only on what is not happening and be grateful for what is. Gratitude fuels joy. Don't hang on to the hurts and offences of others, allowing them to fester into bitterness. Forgive as you have been forgiven. Refuse to become a prisoner to worry. Place your trust in God.
As Paul said, "Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 NLT)"