“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:4-9).
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing.” Joy to the World is one of the most well-known Christmas hymns sung in the church, but known by many outside the church. It is a hymn written by Isaac Watts, which was inspired by both Psalm 98:4-9 (as seen above) and Luke 2:10.
Luke 2:10 gives us a glimpse into the conversation between the angels and the shepherds, where the angels told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” One of Jesus’ distinct missions in coming to earth was to bring His people joy.
Looking up the opposite of joy helps us to better understand what joy means in the first place. The opposite of joy is depression, melancholy, misery, sadness, sorrow, unhappiness, discouragement, mourning, or woe. According to Merriam Webster, joy is “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” This English definition isn’t far from the biblical teaching on joy. John Piper defines Christian joy as “a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”
You may read those two definitions of joy and become uncomfortable because you see them as subjective and “touchy-feely.” But the reality is that joy is a feeling. It is an experience. It is a human emotion intricately connected to the very basic human emotion of happiness. In fact, for years many people have separated happiness and joy, seeing joy as being a deeper and longer-lasting experience of happy emotion. Biblically, it is hard to differentiate happiness and joy.
What the Bible is clear about is that joy is a gift from God. Paul lists joy as one of the fruits of the Spirit. The root word in the Greek language for joy is the word “chara”, which is also closely connected to the Greek word “charis,” meaning “grace.” If grace is undeserved favor, then joy is also seen as a favor, or a gift that God gives.
Interestingly, as we have moved from one week in Advent to the next, we have covered the topics of hope, peace, love, and now joy. Both non-believers and believers can at least get a taste for hope, peace, love, and joy. We might say that non-believers are given a taste of it from God’s common grace to whet their appetites for more, while believers are given true hope, true peace, true love, and true joy through the birth, the death, and the resurrection of Christ. Without Christ, we are left hoping, longing for peace, lonely for love, and eternally desperate for joy. This is why Psalm 32:1 says, “Happy is the man whose sins are forgiven.”
“Good news of great joy!” For our Savior has come, and is coming again to take us to himself! May this Christmas season be one of true joy for us. May the drama of family conflict that might rise up be seen as an opportunity to show the gospel because we have been filled with the joy that comes through Christ. May the letdown of sickness during the Christmas break not take our joy away from us because Christ has come! May the disappointment of not receiving the gifts we had wanted to receive take our joy, because the ultimate gift of God’s saving grace has been given to us!