The Difference of Joy
The main difference between joy and happiness, in the words of the great poet and essayist, Rainer Maria Rilke, is that, “only in joy does creation happen.” Happiness, he says, is more a “promising and interpretable pattern” of things as they already are—think a puzzle that has been put together. All is right and as it should be—happiness. But joy isn’t a pleasant rearrangement of the world as we know it. Joy is a “pure addition out of nothingness,” the gift of new pieces to the puzzle that mysteriously reveal a different picture altogether.
Joy changes things. It changes us. Even in our happiness we may be left to worry about how long it will last. But such worries are impossible in joy because just as joy cannot be fully “held,” he says, neither can it be “truly lost again.” Once we have been touched by joy, we’re never fully the same.
Our worship this past Sunday reflected this difference. In Advent we prepare for the light of Christmas morning by lifting up the darkness that makes this late so necessary. We hear ominous scriptures from the prophets and gospels that remind us of the world’s need for Christ’s light. But on the third Sunday, we remember that even amid our sorrows there is room enough for joy. So we light a bright pink, or rose, candle amid the deep purple ones, and we celebrate with the music of the season that truly does bring us so much joy.
We take great care to make sure we honor this season of preparation for Christmas, not rushing too quickly into the light—along with all the glitter and schmaltz (who doesn’t love some good Christmas schmaltz!). But on this “joy” Sunday we remember that a light already shines in the darkness. Christ, as we say, is both here and not yet. For most of this season we meditate on the ways Christ is not yet here, but this Sunday we lean fully into the truth of our faith that Christ is already here among us and within us. Our “chemistry” has already been changed, or in the words of Paul, we are already “a new creation.”
So, friends and fellow pilgrims on the way to Bethlehem, breathe deeply this week. Fill your ears and your lungs and your mouths and your hearts with the music of this season. And watch how you are changed. Or rather, let this music remind you how you have already been changed; let this music be evidence of the joy that is already within you.