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Spiritual Matters by Rev Chris Sparks

Joy is more than Happiness

So, the message of the third Sunday in Advent is Joy!
“That’s an easy topic” I thought. Joy is an emotion that everybody understands. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that we can often mistake happiness for joy.
We all know what happiness is! For me, it may be waking up on a day off to find the sun shining and a day’s ride on a motorcycle beckoning. Standing back and admiring the gardens, resplendent with colourful blooms and surrounded by manicured lawns, after a hard day’s work.  It’s a baby’s smile; an enthusiastic greeting from the family pet on arriving home; for some it may be an unexpected pay-rise; it could be so very many things.
But joy is different. Joy is lasting; it has depth; it’s not easily spooked; and it has both history and purpose.
Let me illustrate it this way! When I began taking flying lessons, it was because I had a goal in mind – a purpose. Sure, it made me happy learning the necessary skills to control an aircraft in flight; soaring high above the earth among those fluffy fair-weather clouds; experiencing the freedom of movement in 3-dimensions; looking down on the patchwork beauty of the earth.
And then the day arrived when, after we’d landed at Bankstown, my instructor opened his door and jumped out. Not because I’d scared him, but because he’d decided I could fly a circuit all on my own – unsupervised! That was very scary! But it delivered a signal that he had confidence in me to take-off, fly a circuit and land without a serious risk of breaking the aircraft – or myself!
Did that make me happy? No, not really. I was anxious – on tenterhooks. How would I go leaving terra firma with no-one to bail me out if I messed up?
Well, I didn’t mess up, and on completing my first solo circuit, received the mandatory congratulatory response.
Was I happy now? Yes, I was! I’d accomplished something significant and felt elation at reaching, and successfully completing that first tangible objective.
But what I actually felt was more than happiness. My feelings ran much deeper than that. What I experienced was joy, because I was one step closer to realising a calling – a dream – a purpose. I was one step closer to fulfilling a desire to use an airplane to reach out in ministry to folk living is isolated parts of the Australian outback.

I was on a journey that had as its goal something much more profound than the accumulation of personal happy snaps.
That was also true of Jesus! There were times when he found the going tough because of the people’s unbelief. There were times when he was encouraged by examples of true faith. There were occasions when he felt at peace and loved by those around him.
But it was joy that really got his motor running. The joy he experienced knowing he was in tune with something much bigger than himself, for he was deeply entrenched in his heavenly Father’s love and purpose.
This deep joy he passed on to those who embraced his mission and purpose, who gladly set their course for a future dripping with the promise of an eternal relationship with God – through Christ.
This is the joy of which Jesus spoke. And this is the reality of a deep joy we can all experience.