BY REV. TIM NAPPE - HARBOR OF JOY LUTHERAN CHURCH
I have lost track of the number of times that I have heard it over the last couple of weeks. Friends, family, and even complete strangers are wishing each other "Happy New Year!" I know that it probably seems like a minor issue of semantics, but I want to encourage you to consider a different farewell for one another during this transition into 2018.
Instead of wishing one another a “Happy New Year,” change it up a little bit and urge each other to have a "Joyful New Year."
Let me try to explain the difference. Happiness is the emotion we feel when our circumstances are going well. Everything is right with the world. The weather, our health, the well-being of our loved ones, the state of the world around us and life in general is moving in a positive direction. Happiness has to do with the external situation around us. When things around us are comfortable and we like what we are experiencing, we are happy.
Joy is different. Joy is an emotion that comes from within. Joy is the result of feeling content with my situation, even when my situation may not be very good. Joy is internal. Joy is experienced when I am content with myself, with my relationships and with my Creator.
Joy is a gift. It is a feeling of being blessed by God, sometimes in spite of what is going on in the world around us. Joy is not determined by external circumstances. Joy is determined by being at peace with God and with my situation.
The Apostle Paul, at the time that he wrote the letter to the Philippians, found himself imprisoned for preaching the gospel. He was not comfortable. In fact, he was probably hungry, dirty, cold, chained and physically restricted. His freedom had been taken away. His access to physical comforts and companionship had been taken away. His future was in danger of being taken away. And he was under the very real threat that his life was going to be taken away.
He certainly was not happy about his situation. And yet, the letter to the Philippians is filled with joy. He knows that he is not alone. He knows that God ultimately holds him and his future in the palm of His powerful hand. And Paul knows that there is nothing on earth that can separate him from the love of God.
In Philippians 4, Paul writes these words as an assurance to his readers, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
And in the same chapter, Paul urges the Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Paul recognizes that there are many things in the world around him that he cannot control. There are many things that he is not happy about. But, he can control what he chooses to think about. He can control whether he is going to be discouraged about his circumstances or thankful about his blessings.
And Paul chooses joy! He rejoices in the blessings of being a child of God, being redeemed by his Savior, and being loved by his Creator. He rejoices in the promises of eternal life and in the forgiveness of sins. He rejoices that he has brothers and sisters in communities across the Roman Empire praying for him and bringing his needs before God the Father.
In this New Year, there will be many things that we cannot control and unfortunately, there will be things that we are not going to be happy about. But we can choose to be joyful, regardless of our situation or circumstance!
From Harbor of Joy Lutheran Church, I want to wish all of you, a very Joyful New Year!