We’re now entering into the final week of Advent, Christmas is almost upon us. In this Advent series so far we’ve looked at the shalom, peace of God, how we can discover God right where we are amongst us, and about grace. Today, as I draw the series to a close, I want to talk about joy.
When my mum died, I felt immense pain, grief and sorrow. I was angry, I was upset, I was hurting deep down. It was one of the worst moments of my life. For a long time I wanted to go back in time and do something to stop it happening.
But as I started to process this grief – through prayer, counselling, talking to friends and hearing memories of her, remember the good things about her, things began to change.
I reflected too that as a Christian she wasn’t completely gone, and that I would see her again.
This year, eleven years after it happened, I looked back and saw all the good that God brought through that pain, the transformation that took place in me as a result of it, and I began to see that it was part of the plan for her to die when she did, that God knew it would happen then and planned for it, that it was her time to die, I felt something deep inside – something I feel now every time I think of her.
Joy is something that is deeply felt. It is beyond an emotion, it is something truly divine, something that your entire body, soul, mind and spirit experiences. It overwhelms you in many ways.
You smile, but you have tears in your eyes. There is still a deep pain, but there is at the same time rejoicing. The hurt is real, and deeply felt, but you cannot help but feel positive about the outcome, and you feel a real sense of hope about the future.
Have you ever experienced something similar?
If the answer is yes, then you have experienced joy.
I accept this particular experience is directly related to my feeling of grief. But I believe that joy is something we can – and indeed many of us have – experienced.
Not happiness. But joy.
Often these two words are interchanged and used to describe the same feeling – a temporary emotion which puts a smile on our face, makes us feel good about ourselves for an evening, or a few days even.
You see, happiness isn’t permanent, it’s not something that happens deep inside our souls, it’s a temporary emotion which comes upon us and leaves us.
Joy is totally different.
It’s much deeper.
Joy isn’t an emotion in the traditional sense I would say. It’s something that we experience, it’s almost a process – or the culmination of a process, at the very least. It’s something that goes beyond temporary emotion, something we feel deep in our souls, something we often can’t explain.
In a Christian context, reflecting on Jesus immense suffering, torture and death knowing it was for us, knowing that it saved us and that without it we are lost. When I watched ‘The Passion of the Christ’ it moved me deeply in this sense. I felt a very deep sense of pain, knowing that He had done this for me and remembering how much grace I’ve been shown, but at the same time overwhelming peace and hope, knowing that at the end there was resurrection and new life, that this hope delivered.
The feeling I experienced then was a kind of divine joy.
Joy usually takes us by surprise too. It often strikes when we are at our lowest, when things get on top of us, when we feel pain, when we are upset but at the same time we discover a sense of hope, a fresh purpose, a divine intervention, an optimism about the future, a sense that we are not alone.
We often romanticise the Christmas story, to a baby born in a stable on a nice clear night. What we often forget about, or is ignored, are some of the great difficulties and struggles this baby was born into.
He was an illegitmate child, conceived out of wedlock, to a likely early teenager betrothed to be married, but not yet married.
Joseph could have walked away and left Mary to be a single mother – the child wasn’t his, and it would have caused great controversy agreeing to go through with the marriage and raise this child. It would undoubtedly have harmed his and her reputation to go through with the pregnancy, and growing up for this child was not going to be easy with this background, and the stigma of it would have stuck to Joseph and Mary. Jesus wasn’t born in a nice warm stable – it was more likely to be a cave, or some dark, poorly lit back room – and he wasn’t laid in a wooden cot-like bed, but probably the same trough the cattle and maybe even pigs laid in.
This baby was born amongst high controversy, in poverty, with parents who had risked it all on keeping Him and trusted God that this was the right thing to do. Parents who’d staked their reputation and their future on Him, who had taken incredible risks for Him – and it wasn’t nice, easy and painless.
Indeed, many women died during childbirth in those pre-anisthetic days, so in one sense Mary was risking her life for Jesus’s sake. Jesus first bed was a trough in a back room or cave with little light, full of dirt and muck.
But amongst all this pain, confusion and controversy, we see some incredible truths.
That God has become fully human, embraced humanity even to the extent of being born by a woman. God could easily just have made Jesus from the dust as He made Adam, but He chose to have Him born of woman, fully entering into our experience.
That God has not abandoned us, that He hasn’t left us alone, that He has come in the flesh to save us, to rescue us. That He has come to us, to show us how to be human in the way God made us to be, to bring us new life.
As we remember this, we see that despite the scandal, controversy and poverty of His birth, that there is hope and this hope is real, flesh and blood amongst us, we can begin to understand the true joy of Christmas
We can remember that whatever our circumstances, whatever struggles we have in our lives, whatever pain we’re going through or difficulties we are facing, we are not alone.
God has not abandoned us, He has come for us, to us, as one of us. To meet us where we are, right here, right now.
Hope is real and has a name – Jesus – and His life begins not perfectly, but messily, controversially, painfully and with difficulty – just like our lives can be.
In the moment we understand this, and we simply accept the gift of a Jesus who knows fully what it truly means to be human, we know joy.
The true joy of Christmas.
Have a peaceful, joyful Christmas.
Time for you to join the discussion!
How have you experienced the joy of Christ in your life?
How can you experience His joy this Christmas?
Check out the rest of the Advent series here: