dec. 14 - joy

by Rev. Magrey DeVega, St. Paul's UMC, Cherokee, Iowa

First, read Psalm 118:24

Joy is one of the Bible’s favorite words. It appears over 170 times throughout the Scriptures. Jesus said it almost twenty times in his public teaching and ministry. Paul used the word two dozen times throughout his letters to the churches. 

Yet joy is one of the most elusive concepts in the Christian life. We know what it means to be happy, and we have felt giddiness and celebration and love. But what, essentially, is joy? And what is preventing you from experiencing that joy during this Advent season?

It is interesting, first of all, to consider what joy is not. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is contingent on your circumstances; it is what you feel when something good is happening to you, for you, or around you. Happiness flees and fades.

Yet despite its temporary nature, happiness is what many people strive for relentlessly, at nearly any cost. That feeling of ecstasy, satisfaction, and exhilaration may feel good for a while, but the letdown is inevitable. Entire industries have been built on trying to give people that temporary thrill, from sports teams to amusement parks, from gourmet restaurants to alcohol distributors. These substances and settings are all designed for happiness

Granted, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. But biblically speaking, the chief goal for the follower of Jesus is not happiness. It is joy. “What is the chief end of human beings?” the old catechism asks. “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” 

Joy is not contingent on surroundings, substances, or situations. It is a constant, unswerving reality, a mainstay of the Christian’s existence. Whereas happiness depends on whether or not you are having a good day, the Psalmist in today’s scripture reading is clear. This is the day that the Lord has made. In other words, every day has reason enough to be joyful and glad. 

Most often, when the Bible refers to joy, it uses the Greek word chara, which can be translated in either of two ways. The first is with the words “calm delight." This phrase describes joy as a steady, constant, unwavering acknowledgment of something good in one’s life. The second way to translate that word is “exceeding gladness.” This phrase reminds us that joy is not manufactured from within, but originates external to us. It is not contingent on human efforts, not dependent on one’s ability to make oneself joyful. It is an exceeding gladness, a radical acknowledgment of something that has been done to you and for you, and you can be grateful.

Putting those two phrases together gives us a complete picture of how the Bible understands joy: it is the constant acknowledgment of something good in our lives, which comes from a Source outside ourselves.

Advent people know there is only one source for all our joy. That constant presence of something good in our lives is nothing less than the very presence of God’s love within us. It is the ready acknowledgment that no matter what happens in your life, whatever ailments, trials, or sufferings you may go through, God is always there. Emmanuel: God is with us.

That is the message of Advent: God is drawing near to you in an intimate relationship of love, life, and hope through Jesus Christ, your Emmanuel. And regardless of what happens to you, God won’t leave you. Today, and every day, you can rejoice, and be glad in it. 

Litany for the Third Week of Advent

This is the day that the Lord has made
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
For giving us the gift of relationships and love:
Rejoice!  Give thanks to God!
For creating us to be a people of hope for the world:
Rejoice!  Give thanks to God!
For Your subtle glimmers of light that illuminate our darkness:
Rejoice!  Give thanks to God!
For showering us with peace to overcome our tough times:
Rejoice!  Give thanks to God!
For forgiving our sins and granting us new life:
Rejoice!  Give thanks to God!
For always being with us, no matter what happens:
Rejoice!  Give thanks to God!
For sending us Jesus, who is always by our side:
Rejoice!  Give thanks to God! Amen!

On this Sunday of Joy, open your jar of M & M candies marked, “Joy” and read the litany together from today’s devotional. While you eat, talk about what brings you joy.

How is joy different from happiness? What do you think brings God joy? How can joy, which doesn’t depend on what happens or doesn’t happen to us, guide us through good and not-so-good days? Take time together and pray for joy in your heart and joy for the world rooted in the love of God.