The True Joy of Christmas

Matthew chapter 2 tells us of the arrival of the wise men to worship the young toddler Jesus. We read in verse 10 that they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Or in other translations, they “rejoiced with exceedingly great joy,” were “overjoyed beyond measure,” and were “ecstatic with joy.” In modern parlance we could say they rejoiced with a humongous, big awesome joy.

Have you ever experienced that kind of joy? On a scale of 1 to 10, that kind of joy is an 11. Take the most joy you’ve ever experienced and crank it up. Make it overjoy. This is King Jesus we’re talking about, after all! 

The shepherds from the Christmas story were at first afraid when they encountered an angel of the Lord in the dark night sky, but the angel told them, “Fear not, for behold, 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” (Luke 2:10-11, emphasis mine). What is the news of great joy for all the people? The news is that Jesus is here! This is the same story we reenact every Christmas, that God has come to be with his people, and every year the same joy is ours.

This week we light the candle of joy for Advent. Maybe you aren’t feeling so overjoyed this season. Christmas might be weird this year, and many of us won’t be able to spend the holidays with our loved ones. But thanks be to God, our joy is not found in our outward circumstances. The true joy of Christmas — and of every day — is found in the person of Christ, Emmanuel, God who became a man to take on himself the punishment for the sins of the world.

Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, was condemned as a traitor for his opposition to Hitler. Like Paul, he wrote from prison. Shortly before he was hanged by the Nazis in 1945, he wrote these words which are strangely apt for our context today:

“We may ask why God has sent us into this time, why he has sent this whirlwind over the earth, why he keeps us in the chaos where all appears hopeless and dark and why there seems to be no end to this in sight. … If we want to transform life again, if Advent is truly to come again — the Advent of home and of hearts, the Advent of all the people and the nations, a coming of the Lord in all this — then the great Advent question for us is whether we come out of these convulsions with determination: yes, arise! It is time to awaken from sleep. It is time for a waking up to begin somewhere. It is time to put things back where God put them. … The Advent message comes out of an encounter of man with the absolute, the final, the gospel. It is thus the message that shakes — so that in the end the world shall be shaken. … This shocked awakening is definitely part of experiencing Advent. But at the same time there is much more that belongs to it. Advent is blessed with God’s promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time. These promises kindle the inner light in our hearts. Being shattered, being awakened — only with these is life made capable of Advent. In the bitterness of awakening, in the helplessness of ‘coming to,’ in the wretchedness of realizing our limitations, the golden threads that pass between heaven and earth in these times reach us. These golden threads give the world a taste of the abundance it can have.”

In the midst of World War II, in his imprisonment, Father Delp wrote of blessing, of happiness, of abundance. He knew that these things are immutable and only to be found hidden in Christ. As Paul says in Philippians 4, first we rejoice in the Lord, then we pray and give thanks, and then, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (7).

One of the biggest problems with Christians is that we’re so underjoyed. We’re starving for joy. We’re known so often for being against everything instead of for being joyously for Christ. Advent is a perfect time of year to refocus our attention and our affections on Christ, so that we may again be filled with joy beyond measure. Take some time to reflect on why three Persian astronomers were ecstatic with joy to travel hundreds of miles to meet the child Jesus and why, conversely, we so often take him for granted.

In her book Shadow and Light, Tsh Oxenrider writes, “Take joy in knowing that, even if the Advent season isn’t always full of cheer or glad anticipation, Jesus knows your longing for joy in the midst of it. … Christ finds it worthwhile to come incarnate, in full humanity, and to know the fullness of our joys and sorrows. God meets you here in Advent, in the shadows, and brings the light of knowing well your full experience of life on earth. Jesus is truly Emmanuel, God with us. In this we find true joy.”

Written By: Jess Glass

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