* these next two posts are the final 2 lovesigns i won't be able to "fit" into fusion. they are also available in the 1 thessalonians teaching atlas, complete with reflection questions and illustrations of engagement.
1.6, 2.19-20, 3.9
Some people make the mistake of confusing joy with happiness.
Happiness, after all, is fairly easy to achieve…and quick to fade.
Happiness is trendy. We have Happy Meals, and watch Happy Feet or Happy Gilmore. “Happy Birthday” is the most-sung chorus on the planet. These things make us feel light and exuberant for about 90 minutes. But after the Happy Meal comes the confused look on your child’s face that precedes an unpleasant season of digestion; after the fun singing and dancing of the first part of Happy Feet comes the guilt-ridden eco-ssault; after Happy Gilmore unfortunately came Bulletproof with Damon Wayans; and after Happy Birthday comes 364 ¼ days of waiting.
Perhaps that's why scripture never concerns itself with happiness as we know it. The scriptures do not have any interest in happiness because happiness CAN be bought. McDonald's got it right in its kid-oriented package called a Happy Meal. Happiness is a cheap, momentary, easily purchased and easily discarded feeling rooted in the fulfillment of selfish desires.
But joy is something more than happiness, something that is deep rooted within us – that is not subject to whims or moods, but is a spiritual quality intentionally cultivated by a person submitted to the Spirit. Joy refuses to be squelched, submersed, or sublimated. Joy isn't dependent upon personal strength, personal ability, or personal achievement. Joy is rooted in God, nourished by faith, sustained by grace.
Here is a great mission statement. It's the mission statement of The Ringling Brothers Circus, first penned in 1899 and called "Mission of Amusement”
"To be good, mankind must be happy. To wreathe the face of humanity in
smiles for a time, to loosen the chains that hold man captive to his
duties and return him to them better fitted for his obligations, is
the mission of amusement and the one great desire of moralists is, and
ought to be, that it be pure and wholesome.
"Amusement unfetters the mind from its environs and changes the dreary
monotony of the factory's spindles to the joyous song of the
meadowlark. It gives flight to the caged soul to treat in airy places.
It softens the wrinkles of sorrow, makes smiles of frowns.
"This is the mission of amusement – and the circus, with its innocent
sights of joy for the children and its power to make all men and women
children again for at least one day, comes the nearest of any form of
amusement to fulfilling its mission."
When Paul talks about the Thessalonian church being his joy, he’s referring to the spiritual quality and testimony of their resilience. Joy is a command he’s both obeying and repeating; it is not an emotion, but a spiritual project. Somehow, despite being robbed of their leaders and apostles, that church has thrived and grown in the grace of God. That they have done so is evidence of their obedience to God, which is a joy that outweighs his own crummy circumstances.
Happiness comes and goes, but joy holds on like a childhood star to his last ounce of celebrity.
Happiness comes from the flotsam and jetsam leftovers of the glitter of our world; joy comes from Christ.
“Our joy,” says Herbert McCabe, “is the joy that culminates in our thanksgiving, our Eucharist, is joy in the cross. Our Eucharist is 'the sign of the cross.' Sure, our joy is expressed in the ordinary symbols of human celebration: in a meal together, a party, a love-feast. But it's only an authentic love-feast if it expresses the love that wants to be one with, to suffer with, the suffering of all the world. It's an authentic love-feast only if it expresses our solidarity with the cross, our solidarity, not only with our companions and comrades, but with the victim who represents all the victims of the world. It's only
if we die with Christ on the cross that we can share his life, his Spirit, which is the Joy of God."