First, joy comes as a result of the faith and trust that resides within me
and not in relation to the material or sensual things going on around me.
It is important that we talk about joy vs. happiness and pleasure during the Advent and Christmas seasons, because it is so easy even for us as Christians to get caught up in the shopping and materialistic observance of Christmas. We so easily can forget that the "glad tidings of great joy" spoken to the shepherds of Bethlehem by the angels of heaven was about the birth of a Savior and not about the discounted prices at Wal-Mart or the luxury items available from a fashionable boutique.
The joy of Christmas is about the love of God Who sent a Savior into our world to redeem us from the behaviors that constantly pull us away from God. After all, the song says, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come." It does not say that Santa has come, or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has come; the joy of Christmas is centered in the fact that the Lord has come. God is with us. Immanuel. Our joy is anchored in that knowledge. I may not receive any of the material gifts that so many people point to as the center of Christmas; but when I receive the Christ of Christmas, I can find the joy that will forever elude those who are searching after satisfaction.
Second, the joy of the Lord is available to us
even though none of us is deserving of God's love. The gifts God offers—love, joy, peace and the others—are not reserved for those who have proven themselves deserving of God's attention. They are the freely given and freely received signs of God's amazing grace.
From a theological point of view, it is important to remember that God does not wait until we become the people He would like for us to be before He acts on our behalf. God loves us, and Christ died for us while we were the sinful and rebellious people we are. There is no need to get right with God before we can enjoy the fruits of the Spirit. The wonder and miracle of Christmas is that it is done on behalf of people deeply entrenched in the works of the flesh or the actions of the sinful nature. That is the knowledge that brings me an unspeakable joy.
The third thing I want to say about joy is something I learned in a profound way from my wife last year. (I share these with her permission and her blessings.)
Late last year, Peggy and I sat in a doctor's office where we talked about how to treat the breast cancer with which she had just been diagnosed. It was surprising and unsettling enough that she was diagnosed with cancer just a few years after I had gone through a battle with prostate cancer. However, life was not through with us so far as surprises were concerned. Later that afternoon, while we were away from the house, Peggy's mother fell while coming down the stairs. She had been doing so well in recent weeks, but now was bed-ridden with a fractured pelvis.
Wanting to comfort Peggy, I remarked how ironic it seemed that, on the week when our faith directs us to the word of joy she had so much hardship and stress placed upon her. I thought maybe she would break down and cry; instead she said, "Oh, I still have my joy."