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Men are that they ‘might’—or ‘might not’—have joy, but it's always available, John Bytheway explains

The December pick for LDS Living Book Club is Born This Happy Morning by John Bytheway. Follow the LDS Living Book Club Instagram to join the conversation.

The holiday season is often associated with the feeling of joy. The word joy appears on decorations, Christmas cards, and ornaments. It is sprinkled throughout the lyrics of our favorite carols, most notably in one of our hymns, “Joy to the World.” In the scriptures, an angel proclaimed that joy was coming when he made the announcement of the birth of Christ to the shepherds:

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11)

As we’ve shared the Luke 2 account with our family, my children have wondered what is meant by the word tidings. In Webster’s 1828 dictionary, tidings are defined as “news; advice; information; intelligence; account of what has taken place, and was not known before.” Tidings is just another way of saying “news.” In these latter days, news is often a depressing word. We say, “No news is good news.” We might even avoid watching the news because it’s too depressing. In our day-to-day living, I’ve discovered I often call my wife with the less-than-joyous greeting, “Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news?”

By contrast, we don’t use the word tidings very often today. CNN is not CTN, the Cable Tidings Network; we don’t log onto FoxTidings.com to check the headlines. I’m glad that tidings has remained such a positive word. Scripturally speaking, tidings has become almost exclusively a good-news word, often a Christmas word, and spreading Christmas tidings is part of an angelic assignment.

Can you imagine the calling given to one special angel to visit earth and happily announce, “I bring you good tidings of great joy”? That’s got to be one of the best assignments any angel could receive. Some angels come down to earth to scold, but this one came to celebrate, to encourage, to bring the greatest news ever. He came to bring joy!

The shepherds might have wondered about the reason for the promised joy, so the angel continued, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The angel directly connected the feeling of joy with the birth of the Savior, and indeed, He is the source of true joy. And then, if you can imagine the spectacle, as soon as the angel concluded his happy message, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13–14). An angelic announcement followed by a backup choir of the heavenly host—that’s got to be a really great day for an angel.

In the Book of Mormon, it was an angel who helped King Benjamin write his famous address—perhaps the same angel who visited the shepherds in Bethlehem, because he used the same phrase! King Benjamin reported the words of the heavenly ­messenger:

And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy. . . . For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men. (Mosiah 3:3, 5; emphasis added)

Several decades later, Alma told his struggling son Corianton about the “coming of Christ” (which began at Christmas) and declared, “He cometh to declare glad tidings of salvation unto his people” (Alma 39:15).

As the birth of Christ drew closer, Samuel the Lamanite prophesied of signs and wonders of light in the New World related to the birth of the Savior. Notice the phrases used in the book of Helaman to describe the years leading up to that first Christmas:

And angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy; thus in this year the scriptures began to be fulfilled. (Helaman 16:14)

It’s pretty hard to miss the Christmas phrases in that short verse: “wise men,” “glad tidings,” “great joy”! All have become like code words for Christmas. In the very next chapter, Mormon reports:

And thus the ninety and second year did pass away, bringing glad tidings unto the people because of the signs which did come to pass, according to the words of the prophecy of all the holy prophets. (3 Nephi 1:26)

There are those glad tidings again!

We know, from one of the most profound statements of Father Lehi, that “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).

Joy is my favorite word in that verse—but the most intriguing word in Lehi’s statement could be the word might. In other words, you might have joy, but then again, you might not. The possibility of joy in this life is mentioned, but it’s not guaranteed. We’ll have plenty of ups and downs. Similarly, we are reminded of the words in the Declaration of Independence concerning the rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” An absolute guarantee of happiness is not offered, but the right to pursue it is.

Enoch knew that not every day of mortality is joyful. In a verse that sounds very similar to Lehi’s, Enoch taught, “Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe” (Moses 6:48).

In this life, we are here that we might have joy. On other days, we are made partakers of “misery and woe.” Sometimes we have 2 Nephi 2:25 days, and sometimes we have Moses 6:48 days. But without the misery and woe days, we might not appreciate the days of joy! That’s one of the lessons and one of the fruits of “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11).

So here’s the question: will the day ever come when we can be full of joy, continuous joy, an endless Christmas? The scriptures answer yes—though not in this world, and not in what this world has to offer. But joy is abundantly available in Christ: “Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full” (D&C 101:36).

There is the key, the key to lasting joy. Real joy is in Christ. As President Russell M. Nelson observed:

The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation . . . and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.

Lead image: Shutterstock

Image titleAlthough Christmas can feel over-commercialized and stressful, Born This Happy Morning helps readers recapture the magic of childhood Christmases by focusing on how we can give the joy of Christ's light to those around us, reminding us that the spirit of Christmas is multiplied in our hearts when we share the spirit of Christ with others. Available now at DeseretBook.com

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