While getting ready for work on Wednesday morning, a news story caught my attention. This particular story wasn’t anything political or earthshattering. It was shared under the guise of “health” news. The headline went something like this, “Religious people are happier than non-religious people.” This groundbreaking announcement is a result of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In this study, it is found that people who go to church are happier than those who do not. Amazing announcement, right? I wonder if we should go ahead and pull in extra chairs to prepare for the groundswell of the unchurched who are convinced by so potent an argument? How do these researchers account for this obvious increase in the “joy factor?” It isn’t theology, or worship, or pot-luck dinners, or even outstanding preaching. These researchers say that church-goers are happier because they have friends.
Pardon me if I have a different take on the explanation of Christian joy.
Friends are good, Christian friends are even better. Lots of Christian friends may be the best. But I sincerely hope that my Christian joy is not tied to other Christians. This is man-centered theology at its very worst. It states that people, places, and events make give me joy, and that Jesus is simply the accomplice in all of those things. We must understand things differently. Our joy is not based on our connections to one another; it is expressed in those connections. Our joy is based on our connection with our God, through the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In John 15:11, Jesus told his disciples that they would receive Jesus’ joy, and that this would bring completion to their joy. He then went on to say that the outworking of this joy would be that they would love one another.
Do you see the difference? Jesus gives us joy and out of that joy we build relationships with others. It is not the other way around. We do not make friends to give us joy; we make friends because we already have joy! The researchers failed to speak to this particular issue. Then again, saying such things about Jesus won’t get you published in pagan scholarly journals.
When you consider the scope of the New Testament, you can’t help but see Jesus in this light. It opens with choirs of angels announcing the birth of our Lord. It ends with all of eternity focused on the Lamb that was slain. Its climax is that moment that our Lord is lifted onto a cruel cross, securing the salvation of all those who believe. We are blessed to be brought into this story of redemption, to be given the joy of Jesus, but we are foolish if we ever think that this story is all about us or our happiness.
Where is your joy this Advent season? Is it in your friendships? Is it in your ceremonies? Is it in your observances? If you can find it anywhere other than Jesus, then I can assure you that your joy will be fleeting. Friends will sin, ceremonies will be canceled, observances will grow stale. Jesus is the only one who offers to give us complete joy. It is out of that joy that everything else in our lives is enriched. It is that joy that allows us to endure the hardships of this life. It is that joy that allows us to persevere. It is that joy that allows us to wait for the Second Advent of our Savior, just like Israel waited the first.
So wait we will, but our waiting will be filled with the joy of knowing Jesus and bringing our friends along for the ride!
Waiting with Joy,