The angel announced joy, not necessarily happiness

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 18, 2000

A popular song declares Christmas "is the happiest time of the year.

Monday, December 18, 2000

A popular song declares Christmas "is the happiest time of the year." Very possibly, but to speak of happiness as seasonal betrays the discouraging fact it just does not last. It may not even be real, but an act – pretense to conjure up "the spirit of the season." We pretend we like people we, surely, do not like "just for the day." Happiness for many comes from a bottle, and the bottle is excused because "after all, it’s Christmas!"

Email newsletter signup

This is decidedly not what the angel announced to the Bethlehem shepherds. Not: Christ is born this day, and this day is a happy day. Rather: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." Joy, not happiness.

In "happy" hear: happen, happening, happenstance, happy-go-lucky. No more than this. A thing happens and we happen to be happy; it does not happen and we are unhappy. Happiness is great when you can get it, but we can’t always get it. When we do, it doesn’t last. It depends upon certain events happening to happen.

We need more than this: we need joy. Joy is precisely what the Christ of God came to bring. Isaac Watts puts it biblically: Joy to the world! The Lord is come

Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns .

In "joy" hear: joyful, joyous, rejoice. The Bible’s Greek is yet more comprehensive: "chara" (joy) and "chairo" (to rejoice) but also "charis" (grace) and "charisma" (gift). All related, and all securely independent of happenings and what happens to happen.

While happiness very often is not at all possible, joy is always possible. It is a gift of God’s grace planted within his children. An internal condition of being, it is to remain constant despite changing external happenstance and happenings. Happiness comes and goes; joy is settled. In point of fact, the strongest and richest feeling of joy – if we have joy at all – is when we are most unhappy. When we are happy and if we also have joy and especially if joy underlies whatever happiness we do have, we never need fear the loss of happiness because the joy will remain and it will stay into the next period of happiness.

The basic idea of both the biblical Greek and its English translations is an individual’s joy is the settled experience of satisfaction in who he or she has become. Such a person has content to life and is content with life. This, despite what happens in the world around.

Believing the word of the angel, the shepherds went to the Christ and received joy as a gift of grace. Then they returned rejoicing.

Wallace Alcorn’s column appears Mondays