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How to find true joy

Joy bookshelf CF366Regular columnist Philip Young reflects on the true meaning of joy, and how it can be found in God’s love.

When do you experience the greatest joy and contentment in your life?
Last April I moved to Felixstowe in Suffolk. I came quickly to realise that being by the seaside gives me a great amount of joy. I just love walking by the shoreline or sitting and praying on the beach. I love watching the waves and experiencing all the various moods of the sea.
Last year was a good year for me.  In October Ann and I were married. I love my wife and our friendship is a great strength and joy to both of us. However I realise that living by the sea or being married to Ann are both states that are not permanent. One day we may have to move away from the sea and one day one of us is likely to die first leaving the other on their own.
Most joys that any of us experience are impermanent and will end. Is there a joy that can be eternal and complete? I would like to explore what Christianity and Jesus teach us about this.
First of all there is a lot of joy expressed in the Bible when Jesus is born. Mary rejoices at the news brought to her by the angel Gabriel. The baby John leaps for joy in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. The shepherds are visited by angels bringing them ‘good news of great joy for all the people’ (Luke2:10). The angels rejoice and the wise men are overwhelmed with joy on finding the baby Jesus. I think it is safe to say that the birth of Jesus is the most joyful event ever recorded in the history of all mankind. At least, that is the way that the storytellers Matthew and Luke record it, and that is still the way it is viewed by those who follow in their footsteps.
But does this particular story have a more universal significance? Is it, as the 1965 film claims, ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’? If it does have universal significance then the story is for all humankind and not just for Christians.
Jesus teaches that there is a completeness of joy. He speaks about this, as reported by John in his Gospel. He speaks about the unity between the Father and the Son. He speaks about love. The key to the completeness of joy is to abide in love. The key passage is from John Chapter 15 verses 9 to 12.
‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandment and abide in His love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you’
So the commandment to love and the fulfilling of it brings a completeness of joy. Jesus is fully in touch with God and we too can be fully in touch with God. God abiding in Jesus and God abiding in us.
So the good news of the birth of Jesus is that God and man are united in one person. But the good news is for all mankind, for it means that God is with each one of us (‘Emmanuel’ means ‘God with us’). In each person there is the fullness of joy, which comes from the presence of God always with us (Psalm 16:11)
The joy of the seaside or the joy of a happy marriage is real enough.  Eternal joy is found in a love shared and the greatest joy is found when we come to a realisation that God, who is love, is not apart from us but abides in us. God loves us and we are able to be fully in that love. God’s love in us is not separate from the love I may have for the seaside or for my wife.
There is a unity. There is connection. There is fullness of joy now in this present moment and for all eternity.
All that we need to do is to abide in and to give ourselves up to God’s love – just as the seed falls into the earth and dies before it bursts into new life with all its accompanying joy.

Philip Young June 2014Philip is an Anglican, Quaker, and a member of the Third Order of Franciscans. He moved to Felixstowe in April 2015. Until July 2014 he was the Diocesan Environmental Officer for the Norwich Diocese. He is now a freelance writer on spiritual and political matters. He is available to give talks, presentations or to preach, and has Permission to Officiate in the Diocese of Norwich. He can be contacted at philipyoung@btinternet.com

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