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Struggling with Joy

“What is the theme for this week of Advent?” I asked Jennifer.

“Joy,” she said.

“Ugh. Why do I always have to write about joy?”

Joy is hard for me because I frequently struggle with depression. And since our culture uses joy as a synonym for happy, I always feel like I’m a failure as a Christian because depression and darkness is never far away. Aren’t we supposed to always have joy?

But I probably always seem to have to write about joy because every year I need to be reminded that, from a theological perspective, joy is not a synonym for happiness.

Rejoice is the verb form of joy. Paul frequently urged his readers to rejoice and spoke of what caused him to rejoice:

  • “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” (Philippians 4:10)
  • “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (Philippians 1:18b – 19)
  • “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you.” (Romans 16:19)

Notice that rejoicing is always connected to something that happened: renewed concern, preaching Christ, and hearing of obedience. Joy, then, is not disconnected happiness. It isn’t that we go throughout our day being happy because Christians are happy people. It is not always easy to have joy and sometimes we have to fight for it. Sometimes sorrow is a natural response to things that happen to us, and this world is full of sorrows. That is probably why we are reminded of joy so much in the Bible. Maybe we all forget.

But joy comes from remembering what Christ has promised us. It comes from being reminded that he loves us and longs for us to be connected to him. Joy comes from connection and context. Joy comes from the promise that these troubles will one day pass. Joy comes from trusting that God is changing the world by replacing the broken systems of this world with the redeemed love of His Kingdom.

Joy comes from Christmas because Christmas is the reminder that the darkness of winter has a spark of light, a candle shining from Bethlehem as a child is born.

The light is slowly exterminating the darkness. That is something to remember. That is something that which gives hope. That hope brings joy.