Joy, must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again…I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
There is a tendency in evangelicalism to equate joy with happiness. You hear sermons about how we need to be happy all of the time because we have Jesus. We need to smile when we’re singing because we are praising God (ironically, it’s kind of hard to smile while singing). In essence, we should be happy out of our freaking gourds all of the time because we’re Christians.
Taken in the best possible light, those preachers have a nugget of truth. Paul does commend contentment, saying we should be content no matter what situation we find ourselves in. But then again, contentment is not happiness. Not being anxious or worrisome isn’t the same as being happy.
Happiness comes and goes; it’s an emotion, and as such, is subject to our moods, circumstances, and the weather. When I’m lying in bed sick, I’m not particularly happy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have joy. It doesn’t mean I don’t rejoice in my Savior. I’m fairly sure Paul wasn’t smiling when he was floating around on a piece of wood in the middle of the Mediterranean (then again, maybe he was, but he doesn’t strike me as one of those smiling-all-the-time people).
The problem with the tendency to equate joy and happiness is that creates people who are artificially happy. People who put on happy masks and pretend that everything is all right with the world when in fact it is not. People who have maniacal grins on their faces all the time, giving praises to God when on the inside they’re weeping. We have to show the world how happy we are, don’t we? I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where?
This hypocritical happiness is not joy. It is not what we are commanded to do and has nothing to do with Advent. The joy of Advent is a joy intermingled with tears; a hope of light in the midst of darkness. A rare sweet when all tastes bitter.
The one who rejoices at Advent has not seen the fullness of what the Lord is going to do. He has seen a light from afar, but has not felt its complete glory. Yet the one who rejoices at Advent knows the Lord is coming with a strong arm. He knows the desert will soon rejoice and spring forth with life. He knows the mountain will be raised above all others, dwarfing even the greatest of man’s hills.