Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
The very fact that you are watching this video is a good sign. You have survived the worst and most depressing day of the year. The third Monday in January has been dubbed Blue Monday. It's the day when people are reckoned to be at their most indebted post- Christmas, and confronted with their lack of self-discipline as the final new year resolution crumbles to dust. It's largely a marketing ploy to make us book holidays, but the experience it points to isn’t imaginary.
Some of the depression around this time of year is biological. Many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder where the low light levels of mid-winter have a depressive effect on mood. Even though the days are slowly getting longer, spring still seems a long way off. So well done for making it this far into January.
Blue Monday, whilst mythical, does help us to think about the difference between joy and happiness. The words joy, rejoice or rejoicing are mentioned 416 times in the Bible, happy or happiness only 26. I think that contrast is significant. In contemporary parlance, joy is rarely used, and if it is, it tends to mean a particularly intensive type of happiness. In the scriptures, the words are used distinctly. Both describe an emotional state, but the difference is in what produces it. Happiness, both in the Bible and in our life experience is produced by circumstances. People will be happy if they get a new job, enter a new relationship, have an unexpected windfall or a good eating experience, or any of a number of experiences. Conversely, unhappiness swiftly follows personal disappointment.
In this season of Epiphany, the various revelations of Jesus are accompanied by joy. The Angels announce the birth of Jesus will cause great joy for all people. The Magi were overjoyed at the sight of the star which would lead them to the infant Jesus. This is rejoicing in something solid and dependable, not the changing whims of circumstances.
Not only that, but this joy is something that can be experienced in the face of things which would normally lead to anxiety and despair. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus even advises we be joyful if we experience persecution in His name. Human happiness can be transient or elusive. A good friend reported to me his experience on a cruise a few years ago. He got chatting to a wealthy American retiree who had looked forward to retirement all his life. Unfettered by time or financial constraints he had planned a life of pleasure. In a rare moment of honesty, as they looked over the rail of the ship, he admitted he was bored out of his mind. It hadn’t turned out the way he hoped. For several years when our children were small, a relative kindly loaned us their holiday home in Spain. It was on a development where many of the residents were retired ex-pats. So often, one of the couple had died, leaving a lonely widow. Even the wall to wall golf had lost its appeal, and all that was left was loneliness and cheap gin. Although the weather was nice, you could almost feel the desperation hanging heavy in the air.
In the New Testament, joy is so often the result of a fresh revelation of the nature of God. For the Magi, it’s the revelation that God has become human in Christ and is always with us. When the disciples return from their first missionary journey, gobsmacked at what they could achieve in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ joy is in what they had discovered about God through the experience. As he looks beyond his own death he foretells even more joy as we will discover God’s gracious generosity as we ask him for help in prayer. In contrast to the fickle nature of happiness, this joy is dependable and permanent. This is a joy that ‘no one will take away from you.’
At the risk of being controversial, this experience is so dependent on a growing revelation and experience of God that you can’t experience it unless you know Him. I have had the privilege in my life of meeting a few lovely men and women who have followed Jesus faithfully for decades. Even in frailty with death approaching, they approached life with a radiance and gratitude that was inspiring. They had learned to respond to setbacks with serenity rather than bitterness. They regarded every problem as an opportunity to show something of the love and goodness of God in the way they related to others. They were people when genuinely spread the fragrance of Christ. They were truly joyful people.
May Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Church, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” And may we experience increasing, solid and lasting joy as a result.