Over the past few years, I’ve grown fond of Christmas movies. I’m not talking about high-budget blockbuster hits, however. Instead, I’m fond of the Hallmark Channel, lower-budget, predictable movie studios crank out by the dozens. This suggests that I’m not the only one fond of this genre.
I wrote in my Prayer Journal the other day that I wish for a Hallmark Christmas. The kind with a small town full of friends and a home full of family. You know what I’m talking about. I want a Christmas filled with joy. Who doesn’t?
So how does a Christmas of joy come about? Before you go to the store to buy fancy party invitations, let’s talk about the differences between joy and happiness.
First and sadly, joy is elusive for millions. And perhaps, for the vast majority, their inability to find joy is understandable and justifiable. This makes the Christmas season a time of intense sadness for many people. Perhaps this is the case for you?
But it’s helpful to differentiate between happiness and joy.
Jamie D. Aten Ph.D. survived two significant and unexpected setbacks a few years ago. The first was Hurricane Katrina which hit shortly after he moved to southern Mississippi for a new job. The 2nd was a cancer diagnosis. Dr. Aten responded to the effect of these events by becoming an expert on the trauma caused by catastrophes. During the height of the COVID pandemic, he interviewed an expert on joy.
During their interview, Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King carefully differentiated between joy and happiness. She compared happiness to a feeling we might have while enjoying a favorite food that goes away soon after supper. In other words, happiness is dependent upon what is happening around us and to us.
This suggests that happiness comes from our reaction to events, people, places, things, and thoughts. For example, I might say, “I’m not happy that Cyndi ate the rest of the chocolate chips.” This is purely theoretical, of course. Nevertheless, happiness, and its opposite, unhappiness, are emotions brought on by external events and circumstances.
Joy, on the other hand, is much more complex and doesn’t require anything external to us. Dr. King describes joy as “an enduring, deep delight in what holds the most significance” for us. This means that being unhappy is different than lacking joy. This is because joy is a feeling that comes from within us.
Mel Walker, writing for Christianity.com, says that “It is a natural human inclination to think that living through trials and negative circumstances would not be an occasion for joy. Choosing to respond to life’s difficult situations with inner contentment and satisfaction doesn’t seem to make sense.”
And I agree. But Walker reminds us that Joy is a choice
A post using the handle “Andre” made on PsychologyEducator.com concurs that joy is a choice we each make. H e writes, “Joy is an unexploited reservoir of potential that is always present inside you. Basically, it is the attitude of your spirit and heart; hence you can still feel joy in tough times.”
Mel Walker reminds us that God is the originator of true joy.
Christmas is the time of year when we might hear, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and then catch a glimpse of an eye-roll. The truth is that the sort of Christmas portrayed by Hallmark didn’t emerge from Christian tradition. Instead, Christmas is a mixture of cultural influences, family rituals, and practices adopted and adapted by Christians in various ways.
However, Jesus is the reason for the joy that I want for Christmas.
And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
I’m reminded of the story of travelers from the far East who arrived in Palestine sometime after Jesus was born. This group planned their trip using some undisclosed combination of ancient prophecy, astrology, and likely other influences. They were searching for a child, who they believed, was destined to be King.
Understandably, their first stop was the existing king. I admire their moxie. After consulting with his own experts, the king sent them on their way, saying, “Go and make a careful search for the child” (Matthew 2:8). And they did.
As the story continues, we read, “When they saw the star that had guided them, how happy they were, what joy was theirs!” (Matthew 2:9). The group searched for happiness and found joy.
This is the experience of everyone who searches for joy and discovers that Jesus Christ is God.
However, joy is a divine gift that springs from our connection to Jesus Christ. Mel Walker argues that all things happen for a reason. So experiencing joy begins with recognizing that God is at work in our lives even amid unhappiness.
Perhaps, but I’m not sure that every bad thing we experience is God’s choice. Instead, I believe that God, out of unconditional love, offers us the gift of choice. But all creation is connected, so individual choices have consequences that affect everyone else. And suffering often comes out of consequences from choices we did not make.
Nevertheless, joy is always within our reach. And the testimonies of spiritual giants who spoke of joy in the presence of unhappy circumstances bears witness to joy’s perpetual presence.
I pray that you experience joy both during this Christmas season and beyond. Even when happiness is elusive.
And as far as my hopeful Hallmark Christmas. I pray that the joy Christ has given me will prevail even as plans fail and invited guests choose other options.
I invite you to join us for worship. And if you have a prayer request you can submit your request online on our website home page. In addition, prayer request forms are located around the church and during water and food giveaways.
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Content for this series is based in part on:
The Wonder of Christmas. An Advent worship series written and produced by © Skit Guys, 2022. Used with Permission.
Jamie D. Aten. Reviewed by Ekua Hagan. “What Is Joy and What Does It Say About Us?” © Psychology Today, July 28, 2020. Retrieved from: link
Andre. “Psychology of Joy vs. Happiness.” © PsychologyEducator, 2020. Retrieved from: link