Christmas is my favourite time of the year. I love everything that comes with the holiday season, from cheesy movies and eating endless sugar cookies to spending time with loved ones crammed into living rooms and spilling out of kitchens. There’s a sense of togetherness that can only be brought about by the hope and light this season brings. Christmas time is described as the most joyful time of the year, and normally I would agree with that, but recent Christmases have shown me that we have forgotten the true meaning of joyfulness.
Last Christmas and this current season have been stained with loss, the kind that knocks you to the ground and kicks you in the teeth. It’s the type of grief that strangles the air out of your lungs and leaves you wondering how you’ll ever take a full breath again. It would be easy to let grief eclipse my vision, blocking out everyone supporting and surrounding me until I’m the only one left in the darkness. It’s easy to let the searing pain steal away the promises that God has given us, but thankfully God’s promises can never be taken away, only hidden from us by the enemy. By understanding the difference between joy and happiness, we can start to walk away from the lies and towards the truth.
Happiness is about today. Joy is about tomorrow.
The world offers us happiness at every turn. It’s the message written into every movie, book, song, and advertisement. And during Christmas, our culture is supersaturated by this idea that if we can have that one thing, we’ll finally be happy. But the thing about happiness is that it’s never satisfied because it’s never permanent. Happiness is an emotion, which means that it can change on a whim and is dependent on an outside stimulus – whether that’s another person or a new job – it’s always on the lookout for the next big thing. That’s why when hard times come, and there are no shiny things, happiness is missing in action. It doesn’t know how to grow and mature throughout the season of pruning and refining because its roots are shallow and weak.
On the other hand, joy will grow and mature like an heirloom plant, passed down through generations because its roots are strong and healthy. Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit, which means that we are to be cultivating it in our lives as Christians. Yet being joyful doesn’t mean you’re faking fine every single day. It means that when tragedy strikes, you hold fast to the source of your joy and resiliency, knowing that the Lord will never leave you in the hurt. It means that you can look at trials and grief as a way to draw closer to your Creator, rather than depending on the creation to satisfy you.
On that very first Christmas, when the Israelites had been waiting through centuries of hurt and healing, the angels declared the Lord’s birth to the shepherds by saying, “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.” (Luke 2:10-11) The Greek word for joy here is chara, which means joy, delight, gladness, or source of joy. Chara can also be used in reference to an awareness of God’s grace, favour, or joy. Jesus came to save us, to be the source of our joy, and to bring us into a deeper awareness of what God called us into when He created us. When we’re seeking to cultivate a joyful heart, we’re seeking to dig our roots into the only stable ground that we have; so that when the winds of opposition rise, we know that we will remain firmly rooted in our Father’s presence.
When grief came knocking two Christmas’ in a row, it would’ve been effortless to get washed away in its waves. To let it take me to a place so dark and lonely that no light or promise could ever get through. I’m not saying that I’ve never felt grief, that I’ve never wept and mourned what was lost because I did…I still am. But finding the next big thing to make me happy isn’t what’s going to sustain me through this season. The joy of knowing that my Creator has never left my side and is walking with me still is what is getting me through these difficult moments. Even in the depths of loss, there is joy to be found, because in the pits of life is where we find our Saviour—waiting with open arms to embrace us and pull us out of the darkness and into His glorious light. Joy has always been a banner word for me. It’s something that I cling to in the hard times and what I point to when all is going well. I hope that as we draw near to a Christmas that will look different from previous years that we’ll put down the shiny objects that soothe our souls for a moment and turn to the One who will satisfy our souls forevermore.