A couple weeks ago, the DeHoog household received a Christmas card from a dear friend on which the sentiment read, “It’s the Season of Joy, may your days be filled with things that make you smile.”  Knowing the friend as I do, I am confident she sincerely meant every word of that card, but it hit me a little odd at the time.

As someone who has wrestled deeply with depression, I know that things that make me smile elicit a feeling of happiness, but that feeling is easily lost. That sentiment got me thinking on the many ways our culture packages joy: purchasing a shiny new “toy”; that picture postcard snapshot of family togetherness around a loaded dinner table or crackling fireplace; a new home; financial independence and success in the workplace; perfect, healthy, smart children; anything we might not have but are told we should have. We are inundated with messages to remind us that we don’t have that THING that would make everything complete and full of joy.

In short, we are gas lit every day by a culture fueled by an enemy who desires to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). Satan wants us to believe fantasy is reality.

My most poignant lesson on joy came in November of 2010. As my dad lay in a hospice bed at the end of this life we all took turns sitting up with my parents through the night. Our son, Mark, had the amazing gift to be with his grandpa at the moment he passed into the unseen realm. Dad had been sedated and incoherent for several days, but at the moment he saw Jesus face to face, his eyes flew wide open at the inconceivable sight. I like to try to imagine what he saw, and that mind picture makes me weep with joy yet today. My heart was a paradox of emotions— full and overflowing because he was going to see Jesus face to face and his suffering here was finished: raw and broken, because my dad was a very loved man and would be terribly missed.

I realized what I was sensing was the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is a feeling, and Joy is a sure knowing.

Joy is also a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and not something that can be conjured up or achieved by hard work. Jesus told his disciples in John 15:11 that His joy would abide in them when they continued in the Father’s love and obedience as Jesus taught and modeled.

This past Sunday in Hebrews class, we discussed the difference between thinking that the Bible and the Holy Spirit gives us “advice” for life (old covenant) or realizing that the Bible and Holy Spirit direct our life (new covenant). Big difference. (And can I give a plug for Pastor Nick’s Hebrews class which meets during the first service. If you haven’t attended, you’re missing something wonderful.)

Joy is a choice we make when we chose Christ over our own autonomy. I also think that joy is inseparable from the other 8 fruits of the Spirit— love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. I’ve found that if I have any of the other fruits, joy comes right along with them.

I am especially grateful this year amid of unsettling world events and illness that Jesus joyfully chose to lay down His divinity, come as a human to make a covenant with those who would receive it, die and overcome sin and death. His finished work is the unyielding everlasting truth on which our joy rests.