Joy. We see that word a lot this time of year, on Christmas card, in lights or on tree ornaments, even in advertisements. When you think of joy do you think of the cross? Probably not. Our cultural understanding of joy is about happiness, life at its best and the absence of discomfort and suffering. But Hebrews 12:2 says that for the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross. It doesn’t really fit with our conception of joy.
A fellow named Skip Moen helps us understand. “Joy is an important Biblical idea but it is not about my inner state of bliss. In the Bible, joy is a relationship word. It begins with Exodus 33:19. Joy is first and foremost a description of God’s relationship to us. God says that He will be gracious. That’s the word for “joy” in the Old Testament. I experience joy when God is gracious. He’s the One who initiates the experience. Joy is the result of a relationship of favor brought about by God.”
That’s how joy is different from happiness. Happiness is dependent on circumstances and therefore fleeting. Joy is dependent on God and therefore unwavering. And herein lies our challenge. Our pursuit of happiness or the things that bring momentary happiness can easily get in the way of receiving joy.
Skip comments from his own experience that joy only comes to an empty heart. In other words when my pursuit of happiness crowds out my passion to above all else know God then there is no place for joy. When instead I am like Jesus and crave the joy of relationship with God regardless of the cost, joy fills my life even when happiness doesn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I like being happy. I love all the wonderful things in life and particularly the Christmas season that bring happiness. But my joy is not dependant on any of that stuff. For the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross so that I can have the same joy set before me.
So I certainly wish you all a Merry, or Happy Christmas, but far more I pray you know Joy.