People talk and sing a lot about joy, especially at this time of year, but as you look around, is there much joy to be found?
Most people in the world find joy in sentiment and circumstances and stuff, but the Christian has a different sort of joy—a godly joy.
Let’s look at some of the songs of the season and use them to compare the world’s definition with the Christian’s definition of joy. (I’ll admit up front, I love listening to all kinds of Christmas music this time of year, and I especially enjoy the classics sung by folks like Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Jimmy Durante, Perry Como, Mannheim Steamroller, and, of course, Burl Ives. But while I enjoy those songs, I don’t define my worldview by them!) Let’s look first at how secular Christmas songs define joy:
- “Here comes Suzy Snowflake; Look at her tumblin’ down, Bringing joy to ev’ry girl and boy; Suzy’s come to town.”
- “For every year the Christmas tree brings to us all both joy and glee.”
- “Down thru the chimney with lots of toys all for the little ones Christmas joys.”
- “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. Only a hippopotamus will do . . . Oh what joy, what surprise when I open up my eyes to see a hippo hero standing there.”
Compare those with how our Christian hymns define joy:
- “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
- “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”
- “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.”
- “Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With the angelic host proclaim Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
See the difference? Real joy is found in God’s loving gift to the world, not in stuff. It has less to do with what Jeremiah the bullfrog said and more to do with what Jeremiah the prophet said:
This is what the Lord says: “You say about this place, ‘It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.’ Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joyand gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:10, 11, my emphasis).
Circumstances could not have been worse for God’s people at this time in history, yet, in the midst of such desolation, somehow the people would experience joy and gladness. How could this be? From where would such joy come? The only way to understand it is to know—really know—the “Lord . . . who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it” (v. 2). God is the source of true joy; it cannot be found aside from him. “Call to me,” he says to the prophet, “and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (v. 3). The Lord then goes on to show Jeremiah what he would do that only he could do. God’s power and provision for us are, most of the time, beyond our human understanding. Joy comes as “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
The apostle Peter had seen and literally walked with Jesus, but many of the people to whom he wrote years later had not. “Though you have not seen him,” Peter said, “you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8, my emphasis).
To experience that glorious joy, we must understand the nature of God—the all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, perfect Creator—and the nature of man. The chasm between us is so wide, his holiness so awesome, we might wonder how we could ever have a relationship with him. Yet this same God left heaven for us, lived in a human body for us, suffered and died for us. But even more incredible, he now lives in us. He sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for us. He listens to our prayers and answers us. He works all things together for our good. He regards us as his body. He loves us though we are sinners. He has prepared a place for us in Heaven. He provides life to the full and to overflowing for us and those around us. He considers us his ambassadors, as his ministers called to partner with him in reconciling the world to him. He considers us his friends as well as his bride.
I’m already feeling more joyful and triumphant! How about you?
This kind of “inexpressible and glorious joy” will not fade away on December 26 or when your new toy loses its luster or someone gossips about you, when you can’t pay your December bills or are struggling in a relationship, or when the doctor has bad news.
I find it difficult even to describe what this glorious joy looks like or feels like, because it’s, well . . . inexpressible! It’s a presence, a power, a purpose for life that goes beyond this life. It’s a profound mystery—the joy that comes from being united with Christ as his bride (Ephesians 5:29-32).
Real joy is a lasting joy—something only God can give and has given to us through Jesus Christ. No, I don’t often see that kind of joy on cable news, but that doesn’t mean there is no joy in the world. We just need to look in the right places—internally, not externally. The Lord is our source of joy and we can see it in those who follow him; we can hear it in“the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord.”
This Christmas, regardless of the circumstances, be filled with this glorious joy, express it as you worship the newborn King and proclaim that the Christ is born!
“Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”