Joy, Not Happiness

Joy must be distinguished from our culture's understanding of happiness and pleasure.  Happiness and pleasure tend to be seen within an individuals’ power—something that people can attempt to force and manipulate and conjure up.  Joy though is not. 

Like a dog chasing his tail, mankind chases happiness and pleasure only to find out that nothing is really ever obtained.  The reason why?  Happiness and pleasures quickly vanish; they are nothing more than emotions and feelings.  Happiness pursuing happiness and pleasure seeking pleasure: circular pointlessness at best.  

Things are further complicated when happiness and pleasure are demanded as a legitimate right.  “I have the right to be happy!”  People will push, shove, fight, and demand to obtain happiness and pleasure at all costs, but in the end, these emotions and feelings will disappear, for they are nothing more than sentiments and passions that are often anchored in the changing fantasy-winds of culture. 

None of this is true for joy though.  None of this is true for you as blood-bought-baptized-saints.

Surely joy is similar to happiness and pleasure, but at the same time it is vastly different.  While happiness and pleasure turn to themselves, joy does not.  That is to say, joy does not point you or anchor you in joy itself, but rather, biblical joy is a mental state or emotional gratitude for ‘good things received.’  That’s right, joy points to something else, something outside of you; it points and longs for something grand that is given.  In a word, joy is not fixated to an artificial feeling or an emotion; it does not chase after itself.  Joy desires, anticipates, and receives ‘gifts.’ 

Keep in mind though that gifts are not things that are obtained by force, coercion, manipulation, popular vote, or legislative laws.  Gifts are that which are given by another.  Thus, joy anticipates gifts, longs for gifts, looks to gifts, receives gifts, and rests in gifts. 

But what are these gifts and who is the giver of these gifts?  The Gift-Giver is none other than the Lord Himself.  And the gifts He gives are: Himself; His name upon your head and heart in baptism; His Word in the Bible and Sacraments; authority such as parents and police; physical life from the sacred womb to hospice; marriage for a husband and wife; possessions; a good reputation; contentment; forgiveness of sins; everlasting righteousness; the Christian church; and the promised resurrection.  All gift; all for you! 

Whereas the world’s happiness and pleasure make us homesick in our own home (always seeking and never obtaining), biblical joy is Christ Jesus for sinners—for you and for me.  That being the case, if the objective, eternal, true, absolute, real Christ is denied, then joy is reduced to nothing more than an illusion and we are left with short-lived happiness and pleasure.  However, in Christ Jesus and these good, right, and salutary gifts: there is joy.

Most surely, joy anticipates these gifts, looks to these gifts, receives these gifts, and rests in these gifts.  No chasing the tail; no carrot on a stick; no dashing after the wind, but rather, joy created in you and anchored in our gift-giving Lord.  

Note: This article was originally published in the Sargent County Teller, September 17, 2015.     

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