Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Philippians 4: 4-5, NRSV
“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” Mark Twain
The third candle we light during the Advent season is often called the candle of JOY. And we hear many stories in the Bible about people experiencing deep joy, especially about those who see their hopes for the Messiah fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
We may hear the word ‘joy’ a lot around Christmastime or read it on Christmas cards, but a related word is used much more in our society: happiness. The pursuit of happiness is a right in the U.S. constitution, and so many people long for happiness rather than joy. And those two cannot be confused: happiness is often dependent on an outside source; we may wait for our life partner to make us happy (or wait forever for such a person to come into our life), we are happy when something good happens to us, we pursue happiness (which means it is something ‘out there’ that can be pursued).
But joy is a different experience; joy is something deep within each of us, which does not depend on the outside world, but something we carry with us, no matter, what happens. And so we don’t say, ‘My partner makes me joyful’, or ‘That really makes me joyful,’, or ‘I shall pursue joy,’ no – we have joy. The joy of being alive. The joy of being accepted. The joy of being loved. The joy of experiencing all God has created. The joy that God is near, in fact, God is with us.
Joy in the Holy Scriptures is often paired with another word: rejoice. Here the joy becomes active, it seeks a way out of our inmost being into the world. And when the Apostle Paul admonishes the congregation in Philippi to rejoice, he says: share the joy! Live the joy. Infect others with your joy. This is how we truly evangelize, which literally means spreading good news.
And joy is one of those things that, the more you share it, the more you have. Or, with the wise words of Mark Twain, we get the full value of it when we divide it with someone.
That’s why so many people can’t keep still when they are joyful: from Mary, when she sings about her unborn child, to the angels in the fields to the shepherds, to the women who return from the empty tomb – they rejoice and share the joy, share the good news.
I hope that, despite all the things that scare us or cause us pain in this world, we are always able to tap the joy – the joy about Christ’s birth. The joy about God’s love for us and all of creation. And that we wear our joy on our sleeves, rejoicing, infecting others with it. It‘s a precious gift to have – and a wonderful gift to share.