Joy is a word that gets sprung around the Church probably more than you hear in the secular world. In the secular world you would be more likely to hear the word “happiness”. Happiness is great, and it’s something we hopefully all feel at some point in our everyday lives. Sometimes it is more difficult to find happiness than other times, and that’s because happiness is fleeting and is dependent on so many external factors. The world often seems to be a place that can so easily take our happiness away from us; sometimes it can be a simple thing such as seeing a driver wrongly cut you up, or the dinner that we took so long preparing burn in the oven. Happiness is delicate and fragile and can come and go in an instant.
When Christians talk of joy they are referring to something much more deeply rooted and permanent than happiness. In Christian vocabulary “happiness” is not a synonym for “joy”, because they are just not comparable. We see joy (or rejoice) used hundreds of times in the Bible, and none shows its true meaning more than in the book of Philippians. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul is writing in imprisonment from the Roman guard. This is probably not a happy occasion for him, but he still speaks of the joy rooted in him:
“…Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil 1:18)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Phil. 4:2)
Paul knew what real joy was. He knew that his eternity with God in heaven trumped any environment or earthly matter that he was facing, whether good or bad. This joy, born out of your contentment in God, is truly a special gift from God.
In John 16:16-24 we see Jesus speaking with his disciples. Jesus is telling them about how he does not have much time left on the earth, and he will be departing from them. To the disciples this brought sorrow, weeping, and lamenting, but Jesus told them that this will be “turned into joy” as they (and we) will see Jesus again.
Jesus explains that the joy they feel will be like a woman after going through childbirth. She will be in agony during the process of delivering her child, but once that’s over, and the child is in her arms she no longer remembers her pain because the deep-rooted joy of her child fulfills her.
Like the disciples we will have occasions where we are sorrowful, where we can't help but cry, feel sad, or are without happiness, but joy reigns over that. Having joy in your heart means you face these obstacles and hurdles with a perspective of faith and trust in the Lord, that his ways are the right ways. We can triumph over sadness, by rejoicing in the Lord.
Joy is the second fruit of the Spirit as mentioned in Galatians, and is something that is therefore available to each and every one of us. So let’s pray and ask for more abundance of joy in our Church today!