Can you recall the most joyful moment in your life? Before you rush to answer, there may be the need to understand the difference between joy and happiness because most of the feelings we describe as joyful are merely happy moments.
The major difference between joy and happiness is that joy is internally generated and does not depend on a prevailing circumstance. On the other hand, happiness is external and depends on a dominant situation. Joy endures, while happiness is temporary. You can take away someone’s happiness, but you cannot do the same with joy; it is a spiritual facility.
Waiting and Rejoicing! Why?
The Liturgy of the Third Sunday of Advent invites us to rejoice as we wait for the coming of the Savior. The invitation seems like a disconnection from the core message of the Advent period that puts us in the solemn mood of hopeful preparation, with the call to fill the valleys. Level the mountains and hills and smoothen the rough and winding ways.
The call to rejoice has everything to do with the anticipation of what the Savior is coming to do. So the Prophet Zephaniah (3:14-18a) recommends shouting for joy and singing joyfully because the Lord has removed the judgment, turned away the enemies, and He is amid His people, and there would be no reason to fear.
Note that the projects above are what the Lord would do in the future, so the Prophet encourages the people to rejoice beforehand. Despite the ungodliness and depravity at the time, the Prophet saw the restorative plan of God that would come upon the people. That means they were still facing challenges when the Prophet asked them to sing joyfully.
Writing to the Philippians, St. Paul makes the same statement of rejoicing like the Prophet Zephaniah; in fact, he places a lot of emphasis on it as he urges: “ Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” Notice that the Apostle Paul recommends that the rejoicing be “always,” which means it should not depend on any “favorable” situation; hence in everything.
St. Paul goes further to mention the closest bedfellow of joy that makes it more profound, especially in the face of challenges, and that is peace. “The peace of God the surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
What should we do?
Earlier in the Third Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist preached to the heart of the people who came to hear him in the desert. In the Gospel of this Sunday, the people responded by asking a very important question: “what should we do?” To ask that question would mean that someone has come to a point where nothing seems to make sense, that hopeless and helpless point.
Suddenly, the people discovered that they lacked joy in themselves. They came asking questions as a crowd and in the foreground of their professional engagements. That means what you do in life can be a barrier to your spiritual growth. The same situation is valid today. If your profession does not profess God, you are in the wrong place, and you need to do something.
To the crowds, John encouraged them to excel in charity by sharing their excess. We often hear that there is joy in sharing; it is true, and especially when the giver is cheerful in giving (2 Cor.9:7).
What John was saying to the people collectively as a crowd and as groups in various professions is that they should seek joy through righteous dealing with others, and through that avenue, they would find God because whoever finds God finds joy.
Moving Forward: Finding Joy!
You may be reading or hearing this message at a time when you feel that joy is miles away from you because of what you are passing through in life. The good news is that you are passing through, and you will pass through all of them, and you will not get stuck.
The Psalmist says: “tears may endure through the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). So speaking to the Apostles towards the end of his mission on earth, our Lord said: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
We are gradually approaching the morning of joy after the night of tears, so we need to activate the dynamo of joy in us. But, unfortunately, we often fail to recognize that joy is not a close-ended facility; it is rather a highly productive spiritual arsenal, renewable divine energy.
Nehemiah (8:10) would tell us that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” Here we understand that we have strength because the joy of the Lord is within us; if you have God, you will have joy, and if you have joy, you will have the strength that will never fail (Isaiah 40:31).
Remember to follow the path of rejoicing in everything situation closely. So, we follow the Psalmist to cry out with joy and gladness for the Holy One of Israel, who we await is indeed among us, bringing liberation and salvation to us.
God bless you!