To celebrate the birth of 2015, here’s the New Year’s chapter from my book Champagne for the Soul.
Day 67 of my experiment in joy fell on January 1, 2000, widely celebrated as the dawn of the new millennium. That New Year’s Eve we sat with friends around a campfire beside a frozen lake in the interior of British Columbia. At midnight we watched in wonder as bursts of fireworks, dramatically illuminating the falling snow, flowered in the vast dark whiteness.
On the stroke of twelve, as we toasted the new millennium with a bottle of sparkling apple juice, I had what I can only describe as a mystical experience. As I raised the glass to my lips and drank, I felt that I had never before tasted anything so delicious. The juice was like an ambrosial nectar, exquisitely refreshing and entirely delightful, even intoxicating (though it contained no alcohol). It was as if the bottle held the very wonder of my surroundings on that unique night ––the dark frozen wilderness, the bright falling snow, the bursting fireworks, the cool bite of winter in the air, the gentle warmth of friends around a campfire. Mix all these together in a drink, along with a hint of something exotic and unnameable, and the taste came as near as I can imagine to the taste of joy itself—truly a champagne for the soul.
Joy filled me that night, and again in the morning upon awakening to a world of sparkling whiteness. The whole lake was covered in a blanket of clean new snow, not a mark on it. This beautiful symbol of a brand-new millennium was matched by a feeling of clean freshness and limitless possibility in my own spirit. Perhaps this is the pinnacle of earthly joy—this sensation of pure oneness with one’s surroundings, of complete harmony between the inner and the outer worlds.
A similar sense of mystical oneness with the physical world came over me many times during my experiment in joy. Sometimes joy came through contemplating spiritual truths or through overcoming problems of an abstract nature. Just as often, however, I found the vehicle of joy was something thoroughly physical—a painting, a piece of music, a flower, a hug or a touch, a drink of sparkling apple juice. At times I might seem to derive nothing from an hour of prayer, only to go outside and discover the joy of the Lord in the wind on my face. Often I sat down to meals that seemed the best I’d ever eaten. Yes, there were good friends around the table, and many spiritual reasons to be happy, yet it wouldn’t have been the same without the physical presence of roast beef and gravy, yorkshire pudding, peas and yams, golden brown potatoes, and chocolate cupcakes. Nehemiah knew this when he told his people, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks…for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10).
To the Christian, the physical and the spiritual are not separate but complementary. To be spiritually alive and happy is to find the physical senses awakening as never before. Nothing is more physical than the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Because our awesome Creator God made this world with His own hands and further hallowed it by living here Himself, joy is free to take full delight in earthly existence, fleeting though it be––just as Jesus did when He turned water into wine at a wedding feast. If ever any drink was more delicious than the one I tasted that New Year’s Eve, it was the champagne of Cana with which Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of heaven.