A Joyful Christmas
The meaning of ‘joy’
by Helen Bryant (adapted, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore the meaning of ‘joy’.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and three readers.
- Have available the ‘Ode to joy’ from Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven and the means to play it at the beginning of the assembly. A version is available at: https://youtu.be/Wod-MudLNPA and is 3.39 minutes long.
Play the ‘Ode to joy’ from Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven as the students enter.
Leader: I wonder what we think of when we hear the word ‘joy’. It isn’t a word that is used very often, although we do hear it more around Christmastime. We’re more likely to hear people say that they are happy or content. But what does it mean to be joyful?
The music that you heard as you came in is by Beethoven. It is called the ‘Ode to joy’ and is the anthem of the European Union. It is based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller that talks about the joys and wonderful things that await us in heaven.
Interestingly, when you type the word ‘joy’ into Google, the first two entries are for a clothes store and a wedding planning company. Does that make you think about the correct meaning for joy?
Is joy found in shopping? Maybe the owners of the clothes store are correct. People do get pleasure from buying things and owning them. Joy is linked with pleasure and happiness. Maybe we can pinpoint the last time we purchased something that brought us joy and happiness. Maybe joy comes from being given something. Or is it a deeper feeling? People speak about joy at the birth of a new baby, or at becoming engaged or getting married. Joy is about exultant and overwhelming feelings, such as crying for joy or jumping for joy. Those of you who have received good exam results probably know what the latter is like!
It seems that joy comes from somewhere much deeper than happiness. Joy is more than feeling pleased with something. It is a deep feeling or condition of happiness or contentment. There could be something that causes such a feeling - a source of happiness - or even an outward show of pleasure or delight - rejoicing.
Reader 1: Let’s think about the words of an old Christian song.
Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising.
Give me joy in my heart, I pray.
Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising,
Keep me praising till the break of day.
Leader: The verse is about praising, and praising means making positive statements about people. We know how it feels when a teacher praises us, or when we praise others. It makes us feel happy with ourselves and the job that we have done. Sometimes, we feel let down when people don’t give us praise or positive affirmation about something that we feel we have done well. Why don’t we try to praise someone today and see what kind of reaction we get?
Joy is mentioned several times in the Christmas story.
- Mary was filled with joy when she realized that she was going to have baby Jesus.
- The shepherds were filled with joy when they were told about Jesus’ birth.
- The angels described the news of Jesus’ birth as ‘news of great joy’.
Reader 2: The next verse in that old Christian song goes like this.
Give me peace in my heart, keep me resting.
Give me peace in my heart, I pray.
Give me peace in my heart, keep me resting,
Keep me resting till the break of day.
Leader: This verse talks about peace allowing us to rest. At the end of a busy day, how difficult is it to find peace and quiet to rest? Maybe we have younger brothers and sisters who won’t leave us alone. Maybe we are the main carer for a sick relative. Maybe we simply have too much homework! Let’s try to use a bit of time today to find some peace and rest. We might feel like doing something else or we might just feel a little better after it.
Reader 3: The third and final verse of the song is about love.
Give me love in my heart, keep me serving.
Give me love in my heart, I pray.
Give me love in my heart, keep me serving,
Keep me serving till the break of day.
Leader: This verse talks about love for ourselves, our friends and our families. Remember that love can be expressed in many different ways.
The Christmas story is all about the love of God for the world. Let’s think about how we might express our love for someone during the Christmas period.
Time for reflection
Leader: We reflect on what joy truly means with some words from Mother Teresa, who found joy in the most unlikely of places: ‘Joy is prayer; joy is strength; joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.’
Can you think of anyone you would describe as joyful? Imagine being full of joy - what a wonderful way to be!
Let’s all endeavour to be joyful this Christmas and spill that joy out into the world.
‘Joy to the world’ by Pentatonix, available at: https://youtu.be/-Xo64Q2ucQ8 (3.14 minutes long)