If you're like me, you really enjoy the Christmas hymns we sing at this time of year. I love them all, but as I reflected on this column recently, joy kept tugging at me. Yes, I love singing the famous hymn "Joy to the World." But what is joy? Is it happiness or something deeper?
It occurs to me joy has to be something much deeper — and much more lasting — than happiness. Yes, I think joy can bring happiness, but every day doesn't offer circumstances that make me happy. At times, things do not go my way, and when that happens, I can't say I am happy. Perhaps you can relate.
But even on unhappy days, I am not hopeless. In fact, when this happens, I think of the things that really matter in life, and that reflection restores my contentment, returning my gratitude for the things that God has blessed me with, which in turn restores my hope and ultimately my joy.
Pondering happiness versus joy more deeply, I determined a number of things to which I could relate. Happiness can be temporary, with a fairly shallow foundation. Even then, it depends on temporary factors such as the circumstances we find ourselves in or the people we deal with. Joy tends to be a more internal contentment that comes from our faith — a deeper, more lasting sense of well-being that is not dependent on our circumstances.
One Sunday morning at church a few years ago, a good man approached me and, among other things, shared with me that he was in the midst of the most difficult situation he had faced. He was not in a happy place. And while he was going through a tough trial, I knew he had joy in his heart, and it was joy that would get him through that period.
Scripture teaches that these trials will grow our faith in the Lord and draw us nearer to him. In addition to the normal challenges life can bring, we are faced today with the consequences of the COVID-19 virus. As a result, many of us have new trials, either related to our own health or that of a loved one.
So, as a reminder, James writes in James 1:2-4: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
It is joy, not happiness, that pulls us through the tough times.
In the future when I sing "Joy to the World," I believe I will have a better understanding of what Isaac Watts was trying to teach us when he wrote it. In James 2:10-11, which some say are the Scriptures that inspired him, we find the source of joy. In these verses, James is telling the story of the angel of the Lord appearing to the shepherds and saying, " I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."
These verses will be a reminder for me when I sing the words "Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth receive her king," of the everlasting source of joy — the Lord. As for my church friend who was experiencing a difficult time, it is also the Lord who was and continues to be the source of his joy, and it is that joy that pulled him through his particular trial.
When I think of Christmas, I also am reminded the birth of Christ was only the beginning of our salvation, which was realized by his passion, spoken about in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
We learn in Luke 1:28-32 how this blessing from God was imparted when an angel spoke to Mary, the future mother of Jesus: "The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the most high.'"
On the day that we now celebrate as Christmas, the child named Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph.
To mark that joyous event, I am delighted to tell you that in your newspaper today you will find a special 16-page section that provides the biblical story of Christmas. In this way, we hope both to honor the true meaning of the holiday and offer you another way to gather with your family and share the story. We hope you enjoy this publication.
We especially thank the businesses and organizations that sponsored this section. Without their support, it would not be possible.
We wish you a blessed Christmas and hope you experience true joy in the new year of 2021.
Jeff Deloach is president of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.