With one day of work left before a Christmas break, I’ve been reflecting on where I’ve found my joy in a term and a year of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, successes and failures.
Often, it’s been in “things going well”. In work, there have been plenty of things to be thankful for! What about for you? For me they were numerous – when three Christian Unions with lots to do and many things to think about took the time to welcome me. When a number of individuals passed from death to life by receiving Jesus for the first time. When events at all three Unis that nobody (including me) thought would go that well attracted record numbers of non-believers to hear the gospel. When church leaders were patient with me, the new boy, and generous in their support of mission. When I remember the fact that I have employers and colleagues who don’t just tolerate my faith, but take time out every day to seek to deepen my love for Jesus. When strangers became friends. When those I new a bit became dear brothers and sisters. Hundreds and hundreds of CU members who’ve been wonderful to me. Stories of people sharing Jesus with their mates through Luke’s gospel, and of those friends being drawn to him. So many joys.
And outside work, too, I have had so much to be thankful for. A beautiful, loving wife who has been patient with me in my stumbling first steps as a husband, who works tirelessly in difficult circumstances and has stuck with me. A house to live in, feeling more and more like home as Christmas cards come and we anticipate hosting our first Christmas Day! A church family and four elders who have loved us both and been gracious as we’ve sought to acclimatise to marriage and two new jobs. The friendship of numerous kind people, not least my supervisor from last year who has continued to look after me. Wider family that have wanted to be involved in our lives, and who, again, have been patient with us as we acclimatise. The delightful news of a new baby born in my family, and news of a baby neice or nephew en route next year. Much to be thankful for. And for me, it turns out, so many places to put my joy – things on which to hang my happiness.
The thing is, there’s also been difficulties, for you no doubt, and for me and those around me. Hard and heart-breaking times with one Christian Union. A month or so where I felt like a different person – quiet, subdued and teary every day. An awareness of sin and the consequences of it. Circumstances which I’ve leaned on for my joy, but in which no joy can be found.
In the wider world, the same can be said. The year has brought the excitement of the Olympics, a truly great and memorable time in our country. A time when the country felt happy, full of joy! It’s also brought the brutal and heartless murder of 20 tiny children in the States. In the last couple of days, my pastor’s dad – a faithful and much-loved Christian – tragically died, quite suddenly. One friend’s auto-immune disease continues to cause problems, another friend awaits a diagnosis. Ruth faces the daily reality of sick and dying patients on her ward. There are times where life on earth feels rather tragic, actually. Unfair. Inexpressibly sad. Depending on the circumstance, joy can flood our lives, or drain away and leave us thirsty and defeated.
And it’s on the basis of this reflection – of the astonishing highs and lows of life – that I am driven to a bit of a conclusion – a conclusion I’ve reached before and will need to reach again every day; that joy, happiness and peace are not to be found in circumstances, not even the most wonderful and delightful circumstances. Because in a week, a month, a term and a year, circumstances change more times than any of us can count.
No. Joy, happiness and peace is to be found in a person, The Person – he whose arrival was announced as an event of “great joy”, the “Prince of peace” – the baby in the manger, Jesus Christ.
He came to save me, to bring me to the Father, to join me to himself so I’d be firmly in the Father’s love – as secure in that love as Christ himself. In joys and in sorrows, with my hope in Christ, and Christ alone, I have a joy, a peace, a happiness that is eternal. My joy has a solid foundation, a rock on which to stand, an unchanging, eternal, glorious reality, outside of myself, outside of the peaks and troughs of life, fixed and certain. Somewhere that no accusation, or illness or gunman can get at it. In Christ.
In ups – I’m in Christ, filled by the Spirit, loved by the Father, drawn into the loving life of the Trinity. In downs – I’m in Christ, filled by the Spirit, loved by the Father, drawn into the loving life of the Trinity.
Every single thing can be taken from me, except Christ. Everything else can and will change, except Christ. It is there, then, in HIM, that I can find a joy that stands firm, even through tears, as tragedy hits, or injustice rages, or apathy creeps in once again. Not by being blind to the pains, but by seeing the Saviour. My Saviour. My life. My joy. Christ!