By Rob Furlong
What do psychologists say is the most powerful human emotion that we can experience? Joy!
We are at that time of the year where the word “joy” crops up a lot in conversation:
“Joy to the world” we sing.
“A joyous Christmas to you and your family” we read on the Christmas cards that we receive.
“I bring you good tidings of great joy” we hear proclaimed in Christmas services.
But what exactly is joy? I fear that for many people the Christmas season is anything but a time of joy and is filled instead with stress, unhappiness, weariness, and for some, deep seated loneliness.
You would be forgiven for thinking that those of us living in Australia with its natural beauty, wonderful freedoms, high standard of living and wealth would experience endless happiness and joy — but such is not the case.
Like much of the Western world we struggle with a sense of meaning in life and disconnectedness in our relationships and this sense often becomes more pronounced during holiday seasons like Christmas.
It is this disconnectedness that concerns me the most.
We live in a period of history where our options to communicate and stay in touch with each other is unrivalled but our ability to develop and maintain real relationships has significantly declined.
We read of reports where families have to introduce rules at the dinner table where each member agrees to place their mobile devices into a basket during the mealtime to ensure that everyone will engage in conversation with one another or about lonely people prepared to pay a stranger money just to simply come and chat with them for an hour.
What has happened to us?
And where is our joy?
There are many things that can seek to rob us of joy in life and among them is our disconnectedness with God and with each other; when I think about this seriously I discover that it leads me to the heart of the Christmas message.
When the angel announces to the shepherds the birth of Jesus he points out that this momentous event in history is a cause of “great joy for all the people” and that it will also result in peace for all mankind.
His birth brings joy because humanity now has a Saviour, one who will reconnect us with God and He will also restore relationships between people, reconnecting us with each other and bringing peace.
This is a cause for celebration! This is the answer to the deep longings of every human heart! This is joy!
It is not about “feeling happy” or even necessarily smiling all the time. As one author described it:
“Joy is not gush. Joy is not mere jolliness. Joy is…acceptance — rest in God’s will, whatever comes”
My reason for writing in this way is because it is my sincere prayer for all of you reading this column that you will discover or rediscover the beautiful gift of joy this Christmas.
Whether you are married or single, with or without a family, joy will not come to you through the gifts that you receive or the seemingly endless Christmas breakups you attend over the next few weeks.
It will come through the simple things. Through time taken over the Christmas lunch to talk, really talk with family and friends; through reaching out to people around us who simply need a listening ear and most important of all, through reflecting on the marvellous story of the Son of God entering our world as a human being.
Why not take some time this Christmas to read the story aloud to your family? For some of you this may be the first time you have done this so the Gospel of Luke, chapters one and two is a good place to start.
May you each know real joy this Christmas and throughout 2013!