In the third week of Advent, Tess Wallace reflects on the theme of joy.
The pursuit of joy
I suspect that a lot of our time and energy this holiday season will be devoted to the pursuit of joy – finding the perfect gift for a loved one, travelling to different events around the North Shore to take in the beautiful lights and Christmas music, upholding old family traditions and creating new ones. The internet is littered with countless holiday hacks, from easy homemade decorations to how to travel with toddlers, all designed to help us have a happier and stress-free holiday season.
And our quest for joy doesn’t stop there. As soon as we ring in the New Year, we resolve to finally quit sugar, declutter our closets, go to bed earlier, get a membership at the Y. We assume that our own lack of self-discipline, organization and creativity are stumbling blocks to happiness, and that joy is found at the bottom of our ever-growing to-do lists.
Who’s in control of our joy?
To some extent this is true. The joy we seek doesn’t happen by accident; it takes intention and effort. Taking time to plan special family activities and making small changes to our habits really can work to improve our daily happiness levels. But the fundamental problem with this approach to joy is that it all hinges on us – on our own strategic planning and ability to follow through. Our holiday plans get derailed, we argue with our spouse, our new exercise regime wanes, and joy can quickly become an elusive goal.
In the midst of planning our own personal happiness projects, what we often don’t realize is that there is someone far more concerned for our joy than we could ever be.
The reality is that God’s plan for our joy is much bigger and rests on a foundation much deeper than our daily resolutions and perfectly organized Google calendars. It is often tempting to think that our plans for happiness are at odds with God’s plans for his glory, but the story of Christianity is in fact the story of God’s pursuit of our joy.
God’s Joy Project
God designed us for joy. But our anxieties, fears, selfishness, and ability to take good things and make them ultimate (what the Bible describes as idolatry) ultimately thwart our own attempts at happiness. The good news that we celebrate at Christmas is that God has written our joy into a bigger cosmic story that he has been planning since the beginning of Creation.
After the birth of Jesus, the angels appear to the shepherds in the fields, 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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. – Luke 2:10-12
This truly is good news. Lasting joy doesn’t depend on us, rather we are objects of God’s radical grace, that he extends to us through his Son, to share in this infinite joy of knowing and being known by Him. And this is the sign of His total commitment to our joy – a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.
How to experience joy
So how can we experience true joy this holiday season? Here are some pointers to get us started:
- Recognize that rest, exercise, time outdoors, quality time with family and friends are all good gifts that God designed us for
- But realize that whilst these things contribute to our happiness and well-being, authentic joy is a gift from God that doesn’t depend on our performance
- Make spending time with God part of your daily routine, meditate on His word and pray for open eyes to see Him at work throughout your day