There is a profound difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is circumstantial. It’s easy to obtain but also easy to lose. That’s certainly been true in my own life. Lots of things make me happy – thing like going to a good concert or just sitting at a coffee shop and drinking a warm drink. We’re told that everyone is entitled to the pursuit of happiness, but that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s always a pursuit because the coffee gets cold or the concert comes to an end. We have good moments and bad moments, but it’s really hard to make the good moments last, especially when I’m fixated on trying to be and stay happy.
Well, thanks be to God that God didn’t make us only for happiness. God made us for joy. And that is something altogether different. Because happiness is about me and mine, but joy? Joy is always about us. Joy, like love, is always so good that it has to be shared. Happiness may be the language of America, spoken by our founding fathers. Joy is the language of the reign of God, spoken by the word made flesh and dwelling among us, if we only stop to hear it. It isn’t of our making – it’s of God’s.
Joy, the kind that we just have to share, is often unplanned, and it catches us by surprise, usually in the back of the throat. Here at Lydia’s House, we’ve had many moments of joy recently, big and small. It was joy when many of us had a game night a few weeks back. As we played Nertz and Telephone Pictionary, I was surprised that suddenly I couldn’t stop laughing. My face hurt from laughing, and I simultaneously felt a bit like crying with joy as I heard guests laughing too, more than they’d laughed in a long time. Our joy was unexpected and real, and I feel closer to each of you with whom I got to share it.
And it was joy when we recently celebrated one of our guest’s 60 Days at Lydia’s House. After she let herself receive love and affirmations from the gathered guests, she said it perfectly when she said: “I imagine this is what heaven feels like.” Then too, great laughter and also joyful tears as we stopped to feel the texture of heaven all around us.
Joy this Advent is taking on a new meaning for our community, as we have been waiting expectantly not only for the coming of Christ but also for the joy of new life within our own community. A baby girl was born to a guest on Saturday morning at 4:40 am. I feel so blessed that Meridith and I were right there during the birth, seeing this new baby take her first breathe of oxygen, open her eyes, and see her mom for the first time. For me, it was one of the best moments of my life thus far and a true miracle. In that moment, too, unexpected tears of joy, so much so that Meridith had to try twice to cut the umbilical cord because she could hardly see. Meridith and I, and each of us gathered here, are like the shepherds who stand in wonder as the truth is revealed – glad tidings of great joy. Like the shepherds, we can’t wait to welcome home this mother and child and worship God in awe of this miracle of life.
We know that it won’t be all roses for this new mom or for our community as we strive to accompany her through the first few sleepless months. I’m quite sure there will be times when none of us feel especially happy that this newborn baby can’t fall asleep or isn’t feeling well. But there is deeper joy, even in this. There is joy in knowing that this new life speaks to us of good news to the poor, of healing and liberty from past hurts. This baby girl is for us, each and every day, a sign that God is working in this community. As the mother said last week a couple days before giving birth, God is talking to her, and she is listening. It is a message of joy in our souls, spoken to us as God becomes a little child to dwell among us. May we recognize Christ in our midst every single day. Glad tidings. Great joy.
Reflection by Lydia’s House Co-Director Elizabeth