Joy is different from happiness. Joy is deeper. Joy is not dependent on circumstances.
The Cubs winning the World Series in 2016 made me happy. A great steak dinner makes me happy. Making all six stop lights on green on SR 38 between Dayton and Lafayette makes me happy. When I wake up from my Sunday afternoon preacher's nap, I feel happy.
Joy comes from God. Joy is based on loving relationships. When I asked Jesus to come into my life and forgive my sins, I felt deep peace and great joy. When I asked Shirley to marry me and she said "Yes" I experienced wonderful joy. When I held Peter and Rachel in my arms as six-day-old infants and realized I was a dad, I felt deep joy. In each case, I knew I was deeply loved and I was returning that deep love.
During the six years or so that Shirley and I were actively trying to have a baby and not getting pregnant (her - not me), there were many tears and much sadness. But underneath the sadness there was a deeper joy. Infertility did not change the fact that God loves us.
Just before the door opened for the adoption of our twins, we came to a place of peace. The best we could understand in the moment, it appeared that God knew there was some greater reason in our future that having children would perhaps hold us back from serving Him fully. The peace led to deep joy. The surprise adoption led to both great happiness and even deeper joy.
The birth of a baby to a young couple in Bethlehem 2,000 plus years ago wasn't even noticed by the reigning Caesar at the time. Only Joseph and Mary, a handful of shepherds, and some eastern star gazers took note of it. And yet an angel announced it to shepherds, claiming this birth to be "good news that will cause great joy."
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11 NIV)
The joy of Jesus' birth is more than the usual joy a baby brings. This joy is meant for more than Joseph and Mary and their family. Because this baby is like no other, ever. This baby is "God with us." This baby will grow up to go to a Cross and give His life for the sins of the world. And the billions of people who have trusted Him as Savior and Lord through the centuries since have known the deep joy of Jesus Christ, living in their lives.
Happiness is a result of events. There's nothing wrong with being happy. It feels good. But joy is deeper. Joy remains when we are unhappy. Joy does not depend on the circumstances of our lives. I can be in the midst of powerful storms and still have joy in the Lord.
God is with me. Jesus lives in my heart. The Holy Spirit never abandons me. Whatever I face, nothing can separate me from His love, and nothing can strip me of this joy.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing!
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, let's make room for Him. Let's make room for joy!