‘Tis the season of joy, yet some of us are struggling with terribly difficult circumstances that threaten to leave us doubtful anything can turn out well. We question the statement people kindly offer, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Some are lost in despair, fear, doubt, sadness, frustration and loneliness when well-intentioned people try to encourage joy because it is the Christmas season. We reply with thanks for their support, but internally wonder “Joy?! How can I possibly find joy in the midst of THIS?” What exactly is it about Christmas that should prompt deep and overwhelming joy when our circumstances keep us from even feeling happy?
I’ve been there more times in my short thirty-nine years of life than I ever could have imagined. The terrible circumstances began when I was only fifteen. My troubles of losing friends to suicide, my own suicidal plans, narrowly surviving devastating injuries from the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, and raising a child with a disability have often prompted people to say to me, “Why you?” “Again?” “Haven’t you had your fair share?” I assure you that none of those trials made me feel ‘happy’.
How do we make sense of this idea about finding joy in the middle of suffering? First, we must understand there is a difference between happiness and joy. Joy is not happiness about what has been, but hope in what is to come. The Bible is not suggesting that we feel glad, or happy, about our circumstances because these things are temporary and ever-changing. Instead, we are encouraged to be joyful about something that is constant…what we have been given despite what is happening. See how the following verses pull this idea together:
James 1:2 “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds.”
Romans 8:28 “…we know that in all things He works for the good of those who love Him.”
Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust him, so that you may overflow with hope (eternal) by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The hope referred to is eternal, not hope for a positive outcome of the trial (which is not wrong to wish for, but is a different kind of hope). Proverbs 10:28 explains, “The hope (of heaven) of the righteous brings joy, the expectation of the wicked will perish.”
Now that we know the difference between happiness and joy, we can reflect on why the season of Christmas is truly all about JOY. Joy, because we have been gifted Jesus, a Messiah, who is constant and never-changing. We have been given a sure, promised eternal outcome; the focus of all our hope despite anything that happens here under the sun. This gift will never change, and should be the source of our hope which provides sustaining joy through the events of this life that keep us from being happy.
May our rejoicing this Christmas season be an outward celebration of the joy we have in the hope of Jesus.