Joy to the World! A song that is sung by many in the month of December. An expression that permeates cultures, nations, and partisanship. Everyone with even a minimal sense of civility seems to endorse peace and joy to all. Peace is popular, and joy is encouraged in secular and religious circles alike.
The quest for joy is indisputable. The well wishes of joy are abundant. The challenge is how do we embrace joy! How de we make joyful living a part of our lifestyle? How do we get our arms around what is routinely considered a feeling or emotion?
Joy flows from something deeper than circumstances. Joy flows from a well within. It comes from a part of our spirit that is focused on the end game rather than instant gratification. It is a decision more than an emotion. It is a belief that what I am feeling will catch up with what I believe rather than the other way around.
I recently viewed a video clip of a young girl who had lost a leg. She was presented with a gift from her family. The girl opened the box and to her delight was introduced to an American Girl doll that looked just like her and also had a prosthetic leg. The tears of joy welled up as she hugged the doll. Apparently, the American Girl Company had designed a doll for the girl that shared her handicap. I wondered who had received more joy, the recipient of this gift or the designers.
Joy is a two-way street. While happiness is based on happenings or happenstance, joy is based on an intrinsic sense of value and worth. If we give value to others, we receive joy from that exchange. If we receive love and encouragement from others, we find that our joy increases. Nothing gives more joy than understanding our purpose on this planet.
Jesus gives us more than a good feeling when we give our heart to Christ. Jesus gives us an identity makeover. We receive joy from the salvation experience because we realize our worth and our value as a human being. The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, says in his writings that we “draw water out of the wells of Salvation with joy.” Joy is the bucket that brings salvation from eternal wells to our individual lives.
As a young teenage boy, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis. My spine curved to the left 56 degrees and then to the right 64 degrees. I was told that I would most likely be in a wheelchair by the time I was 25 years old. This kind of report does not necessarily bring a lot of joy to a 14-year-old boy. My family and I were encouraged to have a very intrusive, life altering, surgery that would fuse 17 vertebrae in my back with two steel Harrington rods.
We decided to forego the surgery and instead I was fitted with a back brace, which I wore 23 hours a day for three years while my spine was still growing. The brace seemed to help but wrestling with a back brace every day is not on most teenager’s wish list.
I would not characterize this experience as an incubator for happiness but what about joy? Is there any joy when we receive unexpected news that changes our life forever? Is there any intrinsic value in receiving a life rattling report from a doctor? I would suggest that joy comes not from the difficulty but from what the difficulty teaches us about our God and ourselves.
We learn that we must trust in someone greater than ourselves. We learn that this trust relieves a lot of self-induced pressure. We come to terms with the fact that life is more than the accumulation of days; it is the accumulation of special moments when our eyes are opened and our heart is touched with how great our God is. We find the joy in helping others rather than being consumed with our issues.
Joy is when we focus on what we have left rather than on what we have lost. Joy is discovering that our value is not determined by the sum total of our trials alone but instead by the sum total of our decisions to turn hurt into hope. Joy is measured by the moments that we are awake rather than the moments that we slumber.
Christmas is a time to reassess that perspective. We have hope as a human race because we have a risen Savior. Bethlehem and Gethsemane combine to give us a mountain called Olivet. Joy comes to the World because we reflect our Creator that brings life and death together in a symphony of possibility.