Would your family and friends describe you as one of the most joyful people they know? I’m not so sure mine would, but I’d certainly like to be described that way. The word “joy” can be seen and heard everywhere around the Christmas holidays—glued to Christmas plaques, sung in Christmas carols, gracing Christmas cards, blinking on billboards—but how many of us truly experience joy each December?
In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Lucy comments, “We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket.” Most of us chuckle at Lucy’s observation, but it’s one of those uneasy laughs that fade into agreement. The Christmas season can suck us into this vortex, leaving us exhausted and empty rather than energized and joyful.
Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” If I want to be a consistently joyful person—and I do—then I need to listen to Jesus and do as He says. His word must reside in me.
I’ve been slowing down and pondering the Christmas story, looking at the details with fresh eyes, really meditating on the wonder of the incarnation, and doing this daily as a means to the fullness of joy that Jesus promised.
And what a story it is!
In the fulness of time, Rome dominated the world, led by a tyrant named Caesar Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, the founder of Pax Romana. A census had been decreed, which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, a little backwater town where they would find no lodging, just an out-of-the-way stable that would offer up its feeding trough as a make-shift cradle for the newborn King.
Here we have a picture of God orchestrating rulers and events and administrative policy in order to fulfill His sovereign will, directing all towards Bethlehem where Micah’s prophesy would unfold in all its spender at the birth of the Messiah.
Outside of town, a group of low-caste shepherds attended their sheep, protecting them from wild animals and thieves. The Rabbis banned the shepherds from testifying in court, viewing them as miscreants, unworthy vagabonds, the dregs of society. To this little group of outcasts the angel of the Lord appeared, later joined by myriads of angels, filling the sky with “the glory of the Lord.”
“Do not fear,” the angel said, a welcome sound in the ears of these panic-stricken men as they observed the light show above them.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
A King for All People
How fitting that the first welcoming party at the Lamb of God’s birth were shepherds. On the other hand, how strange that the King of Kings should be born this humble way and then live His life with no place to lay His head, followed by a shameful death on a Roman cross outside the city of Jerusalem. No one would expect such a biography to depict the life of any king.
But the angels didn’t announce just any king. They heralded the gospel (good news) of great joy because this King was for all the people, a King they identified as Savior, Christ, and Lord.
Notice the proclamation of the angel—not just joy but great joy. Why is there so little of this in our world? One answer can be extrapolated from current news reports, where so many are grasping—in many cases literally—at short-lived, fleeting pleasures. As C.S. Lewis observed,
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Questions of Life
You and I will never experience great joy until the important questions of life are answered. If we’re always wondering who we are and why we’re here, how can we be settled about anything? Education, material possessions, family, and a healthy 401K can be good things, but they will never bring deeply rooted joy, and even more importantly, comfort at the end of our lives.
The Heidelberg Catechism asks us to think about these things and then gives us the only answer that will translate into lasting joy.
Q, What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.
Do you believe the message of the angels, that the Christ child born in Bethlehem is good news of great joy? Then come, let us adore Him this Christmas and be filled with the joy that Jesus promised as we rejoice in the Gift of gifts— Immanuel, God with us.
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