A lot of things came together recently that led me to write this blog. First of all, as I’m sure you already know, the word “joy” is thrown around a lot during the Christmas season. Think about your favorite Christmas song…it probably has the word “joy” in it at least once. If you read Luke 2 when the angels make an appearance to the shepherds, they are bringing good news of great joy. And the most obvious usage of the word “joy” this year for us is the fact that in Haiti, to say Merry Christmas, you basically say “joyous Christmas.” At the same time, I saw a Facebook post recently from one of my many “friends” on Facebook that I do not actually know (I actually only got on Facebook initially to help All Things New and sent as many friend requests as I could to get the word out) that made me start thinking about how you can be joyful in the face of incomprehensible tragedy and unimaginable sadness. This is a really difficult topic to think about but I believe that many people who are reading this right now are thinking through this very concept. At the same time, I see our kids around Christmas and there is this happiness in each of them (even the older ones though they try desperately to hide it) that is fun to see. They are excited about being out of school, about the upcoming Christmas parties at the orphanage and at church, and about getting the gifts that their sponsors and a local preschool sent down for them and they cannot contain their excitement. In fact, Apolon and Kervinson both told me that they cannot sleep because they are so excited and they are 2 of our oldest.
During our evening service with the kids tonight I led the devotion time about the difference between joy and happiness. I did not specifically bring this up, but the Bible tells us to “be joyful always” and to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice.” How is this possible? How are we supposed to always be joyful when so many terrible things happen? When we lose a loved one, when a friend is diagnosed with cancer, when we see devastating war and poverty around the world, and when we know we are completely helpless against many of these things how are we supposed to be joyful? Even when I was explaining to the kids this evening (or at least trying to explain a fairly complicated concept in my second language) about how happiness is dependent on the circumstances of life while joy is found in the unchanging object of our faith, Jesus Christ, I did not know how to always live joyfully. I knew the words to explain to them the difference between joy and happiness but I am still trying to figure out how to live this concept out.
The concept is simple…no matter what happens here on earth and throughout my life, I know for certain that one day I will be in the presence of the Almighty GOD. I will be face-to-face with Him and any trouble or hardship I had on earth will be forgotten and fade into the background of the fullness of love and joy I will experience when I finally get to see the glory of GOD. When I allow myself a few minutes to think about that day it is a breathtaking experience. Everything that I long for and desire will be completely eclipsed by the majesty of GOD to the point that His glory is all that I want. To make things even better, His infinite nature means that His majesty and glory have no end. So after I enjoy His presence for 10,000,000 years I will not be any closer to knowing the fullness of Him than I was at day1. It’s kind of like how you feel when you truly love your wife. You really believe, when you fall in love with her that you could not love anyone more than you love her in that moment. Then, almost 12 years later, the love that you feel for her now dwarfs anything that you’ve ever felt before and you wish you could go back to newlywed you and tell him that this type of love is nothing compared to what you will experience. This is the type of experience that we will have with GOD except GOD is absolutely perfect and we will be able to enjoy this perfection for eternity. When people talk about Heaven, so many times we ask things like, “Will we know our family there” or “What will we do there” and we miss the one thing that will make those questions completely obsolete…GOD is there! When we see Him our Joy will be complete.
So back to the blog…Joy in all circumstances. I have not experienced, in general, the type of personal sorrow that many of you have experienced. I can only imagine, however, the pain that some people feel around the holidays if they have lost moms or dads, brothers or sisters, or even close friends because that type of loss leaves a hole that is very difficult to fill. At the same time, I know for many of you Christmas is your favorite time of the year. You get to see family, watch your children experience Christmas, get a break from school/work, and just in general enjoy the season. What I want to encourage all of us with right now is that our circumstances cannot affect the reason we have joy. They can make us happy or sad, but they cannot make us unjoyful. When I first asked the kids if they knew the difference between “Happiness” and “joy”, Herbison spoke up (which is very abnormal for him as he usually kind of sits in the background and tries to be cool most of the time) and gave some wonderful insight into this topic. He said something along the lines of, “joy is huge (and he motioned with his hands how big it was) and happiness is tiny.” Isn’t that an interesting way to think about this? So I really do wish you a Happy Christmas and I hope everything goes perfectly for you and your family, but let’s be honest about how realistic that is. What we should really strive for this Christmas is not happiness as much as it is the joy of the reality that Jesus came here. The reason the word “joy” is used so often around Christmas is because He is the only reason we have to be joyful.