I have heard many people note that in the Bible we see the word “joy” used to describe the inner life of a Christian with the noteable infrequency of the word “happy”. Now it is dangerous to make too much of words chosen in translation, but typically the point that has been made by many is that joy is deeper than happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances, and joy isn’t bound to our day-to-day ups and downs. Joy survives the hard times in life and this inner gladness remains, even when our happiness might go away.
It is arguable whether or not joy and happiness are distinct in this way. However, the idea that joy is not circumstantial finds evidence in writers like the apostle Paul who could say in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: rejoice!” and then later say he knew how to live with a little or a lot (Philippians 4:12). Then he makes the connection that Jesus is reason he can rejoice in both situation (Philippians 4:13).
Joy is not bound to “how we are doing” as much as “what are we believing”. Christmas is the foundation of the Christians joy because it was the moment where God flipped the script and changed our world forever. Jesus’ birth and his subsequent life, death, and resurrection, are not subject to our ups downs, the wars of mankind, and the failures of man or woman. Like the star fixed above Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth is unshakable—it will not be undone. It is God’s evidence that he wants fellowship with us and he wants our eternal happiness.
Christmas gives us joy precisely because it ensures us that there is a reason to be glad in our minds and hearts even when all else seems lost. Joy is the third advent gift.