You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
“I just want you to be happy”.
How many times have your parents said this to you? It’s a nice sentiment, very sweet and well-meaning…but what does a life of happiness really amount to? And what about joy?
I've often thought about the relationship between happiness and joy. I believed them to be buddies, homies, even besties. Now I'm not so sure.
You see, happiness is a momentary feeling based on an external stimulus. Someone gives you a popsicle on a warm day, a stranger says something nice about you, or that one day where you hit all the lights just right and make it to work ten minutes early. Those things create happiness in you. They've helped you experience a happy feeling.
Now, don't get me wrong...it's NICE! Who doesn't want to be happy?? The problem comes when you're roasting in the sun and you see someone eating a popsicle and they DON'T share one with you. Or when someone who loves you points out the one thing you're most insecure about. Or you get slammed with traffic on the way HOME that same day. You experience many different feelings in those scenarios as well, but they ain't happiness. You don't even need something NEGATIVE to happen to you you. Happiness just...fades. It's not built to last. It will always slip through your fingers.
Happiness is temporary.
Happiness is fleeting.
Happiness is fickle.
Happiness is circumstantial.
Joy is firm.
Joy is true.
Joy is for all.
Joy is forever.
Isaiah says, in the passage above, "you have enlarged the nation and increased their joy." From the book of Luke, the angels that visit the shepherds in the night to proclaim the birth of Jesus say "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people" (Luke 2:10b). Both of these passages are referring to the same event, one prophetically and the other in real time: The Birth of Jesus.
There is NOTHING passive about joy, because the Good News is THAT. GOOD.
And the Gospel isn't for this person on this day, and that person on the next. It isn't good for this dude, but not until he gets older so he can kind of clean up his life and stop doing all that dumb dself-sabotaging stuff so he can be in a good enough place to really RECEIVE it. Nope. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for every person all the time.
When the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD is born in a manger, the ONE PERSON that can break down the barrier of sin and destruction that has placed us far apart from and at odds with God, you KNOW it will cause great joy for all the people.
And that's a joy that will stay with us, regardless of how our morning commute went. Or how someone else feels about us, good or bad. Or how many popsicles we were offered this past summer. The second half of Psalm 16:11 says (referring to God) that not only are we fill with joy in His presence but also "eternal pleasures at [His] right hand." ETERNAL pleasures. No wonder joy is mentioned in scripture over 200 times and happy is mentioned less than 20. God wants us focusing on that which is forever.
Those of us who grew up in church (and probably some of us who didn't) remember that song "I've got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart/down in my heart to stay." Many of us thought were just singing some silly lyrics (even though the concept of a devil sitting on a tack in verse 2 is still laughable to me some 30 years later.) We were in fact harnessing on of the greatest truths in scripture. The joy given to us in the Gospel, bestowed on us from the very moment we hear the story of the birth of Jesus...that joy is OURS. And it's not going anywhere. It's down in my heart to stay.
Thank you for the unerring and forever joy that you have given us through your spirit and by the gospel of your son. May we hold tight to it when circumstances try to shift our focus. Let us be bold in proclaiming the Gospel this season. Your Good News is for all people! Give us boldness. Let our joy shine from within us and touch everyone we encounter.