The Advent and Christmas Seasons are tough. Why? Because the “commercial pressure” to be happy is so immense and so intense. Whenever I flip on the TV to catch the evening news these days, I am only able to hear 30 seconds of news, followed by 5 minutes of commercials, extolling the latest “must have” gadget, with a warm, fuzzy camera shot of a stereotypical family, smiling and hugging and squealing with delight at the newly opened gift.
Now before you think that I have become the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, I want to defend myself by saying that I am not adverse to happiness at this time of year. Families do gather, travelling across vast distances to be together. Gifts chosen with love and care do have meaning. The generosity displayed by many does make a difference. However, I want to make a case for “joy” rather than happiness.
What is the difference between happiness and joy? Is there a difference? I believe that there is.
The dictionary tells us that happiness is “a state of feeling fortunate and pleased,” while joy is “an intense and deep feeling of contentment and peace that embraces the whole of one’s being.” Happiness, it seems, is mostly about oneself, while joy has a broader dimension that radiates from within and out into the world, touching the lives of others.
Here are some characteristics of joy:
- it is a feeling so deep and so intense that it radiates throughout the mind, body and spirit
- it is a transformative emotion which allows people to take the broken shards of their dreams and transform their lives
- it also radiates and moves from within an individual to embrace others; joy needs to be shared
- it is not fueled by materialism and, in fact, is detached from materialism (what a reckless thing to say in a capitalist economy!)
- even in times of deepest sorrow, joy exists and embraces grief, allowing memories to bring healing
- happiness, which is often attached to material possessions and wealth, is no substitute for joy
- joy cannot be manufactured, it must be attained
If I use the above criteria and apply it to the Christmas Story, do we find joy there?
Certainly, there is not a great deal of material wealth to clutter the manger scene. A rude and smelly stable. No bed except perhaps some straw. Childbirth in a fearful place. Loneliness. These realities are so much a part of our world today, even as they were 2,000 years ago.
So where is the joy? Could it be found in the emergence of new life, a sense that we can all begin again. That out of the depths of fear and loneliness, the birth of a child reminds us that life, in spite of our fears, is worth living. We can know joy and we can be transformed.
Have a joyous, life-changing Christmas!
p.s. Read all the other Advent blog posts
- First Sunday of Advent is December 1st. Advent 1 blog post here
- Second Sunday of Advent is December 8th. Advent 2 blog post here
- Fourth Sunday of Advent is December 22nd. Advent 4 blog post here