Joy is much more than happiness. It’s defined in the dictionary as ‘a feeling of great pleasure and happiness’, but Biblical joy is not rooted in circumstances (or ‘happenings’). What happens to us often determines whether we feel happy or miserable; our moods change swiftly according to what is going on around us. But Biblical joy is based on the sure foundation of God and His promises, and therefore does not change easily. It is not simply emotion or feeling; it is something God can plant and grow in our hearts, existing alongside other less pleasurable emotions.
In John 16, Jesus spoke to His disciples about joy in the context of His death and resurrection. He acknowledged the reality of grief, but told them that that grief would be replaced by joy, using the analogy of a woman in labour: ‘A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.’ (John 16:21) As we prepare for the birth of Jesus at Christmas, it is worth remembering that pain and joy can co-exist, and that Jesus promised His disciples both comfort and joy: ‘I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.’ (John 16:22) Joy is God’s gift to us. It’s His prerogative to give and ours to simply receive.