This third week of Advent, Christians around the world light the candle of Joy.
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. 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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12 (emphasis mine)
The news of Jesus’ birth was intended to bring great joy. It was to bring great joy to the shepherds keeping watch in the fields that night and that news should also bring us great joy this Christmas 2016.
What joy does the coming of Jesus bring? Isaiah, when prophesying the coming of the Christ, says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2) Jesus also references this prophecy about himself when he begins his public ministry in Matthew 4.
Now, our culture would have you believe that Christmas joy is about having a perfectly decorated house or getting the perfect gift or having the perfect meal with family. And while none of these things are in and of themselves intrinsically bad, they can bring happiness, they cannot bring true joy.
The joy we find in scripture is not what we think of when we think of happiness. Happiness is temporary. Happiness is circumstantial and fleeting. It is a passing feeling that comes and goes when expectations are fulfilled and desires are met. Joy is light shining in darkness. Joy is hope revealed despite our circumstances. Joy is continuous contentment in peace and in suffering.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
But, how does one acquire such joy? Paul tells us that joy is a fruit of the spirit. Joy cannot be self-manufactured. Joy is developed in a believer as they continuously seek God and attach themselves to Jesus. As you seek God, His spirit grows the fruit of joy in your heart so that being joyful in all circumstances becomes habitual and not forced. A common saying is “Choose Joy!”, but I would propose joy isn’t as much chosen as it is cultivated through a life lived in step with the Spirit.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11