Every January we get to grapple with the implications of the second half of that familiar Christmas Greeting: “…and a Happy New Year!” Alexander Pope said in 1733: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Pope suffered from childhood tuberculosis that left him hunched over, reaching a height of only 4 feet 6 inches. But he never let this steal his hopefulness and his joyfulness.
“Happy” comes from the old Norse word “Happ”, which means chance, luck, or lot. Happiness is just that which happens to you by chance occurrence. Many people are desperately trying to be happy. But happiness, by definition, is haphazard, arbitrary, and temporary. As a teenager, I tried to be happy, and to make my personal happiness the purpose of my life. What I discovered is that chasing after the elusive goal of happiness is guaranteed to make one unhappier than ever.
Rather than aiming for temporary happiness, I have learned to value the more lasting quality of joy. Joy has such depth that I have found that I can be joyful when unpleasant unhappy things happen haphazardly to me. Simon Peter taught that it is possible to be joyful with an unspeakable joy. Joy is described in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as a “vivid emotion of pleasure, gladness, thing that causes delight”. What causes gladness and delight in your life? The birth of a baby? Graduating from High School or University? Attending your son or daughter’s wedding?
I have found that joy is a choice. I can choose to rejoice always, even in the midst of great suffering and setbacks. James, Jesus’ brother, said that we should count it all joy when we face challenges. It is not easy to be joyful in all circumstances. The good book teaches that joy is a fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. When the Christmas angels turned up at the Bethlehem manger, they proclaimed glad tidings of great joy for all people. Jesus, right before his crucifixion, said that he wanted His joy to be inside of us, and our joy to be full. In other words, he wants us to be inwardly joyful: full of joy, overflowing with joy. Without the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, this is impossible. Joy needs to be like an artesian well springing up from within. It can’t be artificially produced or induced.
All of us need more joy in our lives. Joy is the secret of a genuinely happy New Year. Joy keeps the stresses and pressures of life from burying us before we are dead. Thirty-nine years ago in January 1972, at age 17, I encountered a joy that changed me from the inside out. This joy was so joyful that it made me full of joy! Without trying, I developed a smile that wouldn’t go away. I really became a different person, so much so that my friends at High School noticed the difference. Some even wanted in on the action.
My parents initially were a bit worried. Having a joyful, peaceful teenager in their family took a little getting used to. But eventually they too saw a permanent change in their son that made them joyful too. There is something about an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that connects us deeply to the gift of joy. No wonder that C.S. Lewis, the atheist turned believer, entitled his autobiography “Surprised by Joy”. My New Year’s prayer for those reading this article is that joy may spill into all of our lives in surprising and life-changing ways.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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