In my praise band leading days, Joy to the World was one of my go-to songs when Christmas season rolled around. I wish I could say that my choice was based on the song’s deep theology, but sadly, I chose it for its musical accessibility. Christmas songs can be crazy difficult to play, and thanks to Chris Tomlin’s rendition, Joy to the World was the rare exception.
Now, when Christmas season rolls around, this is still the song that often comes to my head. Christmas is a season of joy. We can feel it in the air as lights and trees go up and we see the first flurry of snow. Christmas is a season of joy. The Lord has come, sin is defeated, and we repeat the sounding joy!
And yet, while Christmas comes with the feeling of awe and wonder, it is almost always accompanied by an acute sadness. Sometimes it’s because of growing older and feeling the loss of innocence. Sometimes we have to spend our first Christmas without someone beloved. Sometimes things are just not going well. We might look back to last Christmas and feel a sense of defeat or loss. Sometimes we’re still stuck in that pit, even a year later.
There are places in the Bible that speak of pure joy in the sense that we typically understand it. This is uninhibited joy; all seems right with the world. But often, Biblical joy is placed side by side with hardship. Consider two examples.
First, look at Hebrews 10:34. Reminding believers of their attitude when they were first believers, the author says: “You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”
And then of course there’s James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Joy in the face of suffering? When my property is being plundered? Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of joy. But the Hebrews passage makes it clear that what makes this joy explicitly Christian is that it isn’t founded on something like houses or cars or anything that can be taken away.
So what does this mean about our faith? I think usually we hear things like this and think that good Christian faith means that we don’t care about the things around us. Being a good Christian means caring less about your family and caring more about Jesus. Then we will be joyful because we will only care about Jesus because he is secure…right?
This leads us right to the birth of Christ. He became like us, identifying himself with us. And living the life of a human, he died and rose again – in a physical, perfected human body. The point is this: joy is not found in slowly deciding that our families and physical lives mean nothing to us. No, joy is found in slowly realizing that Christ is going to redeem all things.
He’s not going to abandon his creation. He’s going to renew and restore it. Many people live their lives thinking that our hope is in some cloudy angelic place that has no resemblance to earth. And if we’re honest with ourselves, this doesn’t bring us a lot of hope of joy.
But when Jesus took on flesh, he was saying “Your destiny is now wrapped up with mine.” This is why the angel came with news that would be joy to all the people. Christ has come, but as some spiritual being, but as a man. And I’m doing so, he has made a way for this earth and everything in it to be resurrected and redeemed.
So this Christmas as we remember the people we’ve lost or the things that could have been, we can have joy. This is not because we’re turning a blind eye to pain and pretending it’s not that bad. No, we can have joy because we know that we have a Savior who actually cares about the things we care about enough to put aside his glory to be made like us.
“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.”