Thanks to the Bible study lesson I've been preparing this week, I've been thinking a lot about the difference between joy and happiness. We talk about the Christmas season being a season of JOY, but what does that mean? Does it mean we should be spending the next several weeks smiling, laughing, and basking in happiness 24/7?
Well, if you're like me, there are a number of things about Christmas that make me "happy". Things like getting together with friends and family; giving gifts; seeing the lights and decorations; going to special holiday events (I'm going to the Philly Pops Christmas show this Saturday); hearing and singing carols; the immense amounts of cookies, candies and other foods you can only get this time of year - and doing things I would never do any other time of year - like wearing bright red nail polish with a Christmas snowflake design. Yes, there are definitely a lot of things about this season that make me smile and bring happiness to my heart.
On the other hand, just like most of you, there are things about this season that have the potential to be heartbreaking. It's hard to feel "happy" when there are loved ones who are no longer with us. And, of course, the many and varied problems and tragedies of life don't tend to take a hiatus for the Christmas holidays - many of us are still dealing with illness, pain, worries and fears that come in all different shapes and sizes.
But then there's "joy." It's something entirely unlike "happiness." "Joy" isn't dependent on our circumstances, and it's independent of whatever kind of bad news or grief we might be dealing with. Instead, I would define "joy" as that rock-solid steadiness that settles in our soul. It's the peace that Scripture says "passes all understanding". It's the ability to rest assured that even when things aren't "alright," they're STILL "alright." It's the knowledge that we don't have to be in control, because God IS, and whatever happens tomorrow - even whether we live or die, it'll still be okay. God has our backs, and nothing can ever separate us from His love.
So it's NICE when we experience "happiness" during this holiday season. But it's better yet to know that the JOY of the Christ child lives in us always.
I wish you continued JOY this Advent season (with a good bit of happiness thrown in!)