Christmas is only a few short days away - the season of peace and joy, light and life. But so often our experience of Christmas is far less than joyful. As we place our hope in earthly things and hold to unrealistic expectations, our joy dwindles.
But what if you and I understood biblical joy? What if we were filled with authentic Holy Spirit joy - the kind of joy that rises above our circumstances and places our hope firmly in a good and sovereign God? The kind of joy that looks forward to a day when we will experience pleasures forevermore at His right hand? The kind of joy that lasts - a forever joy.
The good news of the birth of the Messiah brings this kind of joy. And as we look forward to the second coming of our Great King, our joy multiples. This is the kind of joy that is rightfully ours. And we will settle for nothing less.
Good News of Great Joy
What is the best news you’ve ever been given? My mind goes to two doctors on separate occasions announcing the birth of our children. “It’s a boy!” It’s a girl!” That good news filled me with great joy both times.
The good news of great joy that Scripture talks about is also a birth announcement. Let’s follow this theme, starting in the Old Testament.
"How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God."
The image in these verses is of a watchman at his post on the city wall. He’s scanning the horizon for threats, and he is filled with joy when he sees a messenger coming with good news. But the deeper meaning in this passage is the good news of the arrival of a Saviour – one who brings peace, who comforts His people, who redeems Jerusalem, who brings salvation to the ends of the earth. This can be none other than Jesus the Messiah.
The people in the Old Testament were looking forward to the coming of a Saviour. They were scanning the horizon, so to speak, waiting for a messenger to announce the arrival of the Messiah. Then an angel appeared to a young virgin girl and told her she would have a son. He would sit on an eternal throne and His kingdom would have no end. Scripture tells us that Mary went quickly to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was also pregnant, and when Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice the baby in her womb leapt for joy. Even before His birth, Jesus brought joy.
Then Mary broke out into joyful praise in what is know known as Mary's Magnificat. "And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name'" (Luke 1:46-49). Mary knew God had done great things for her and she rejoiced.
Then we come to the birth announcement of Jesus. "And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to 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 Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14).
An angel appeared to lowly shepherds and the glory of the Lord shone all around them. The angel announced good news of great joy for all people. A Saviour had been born. The Messiah had come. This is good news for us.
Sometimes we forget about how good this news is in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. The good news of Christmas is often buried beneath the hurriedness of the holiday. Christ’s birth is good news from us because if He didn’t come, He wouldn’t have gone to the cross, and if He didn’t go to the cross, we would still be dead in our sin. His coming is the best news ever!
Jesus' Joy Becomes our Joy
Jesus must have been the most joyful person to have ever lived. Scripture gives us glimpses of His joy. In Luke 7:34 His enemies accused Him of eating and drinking, of being too joyful. In Mark 2:18-20 Jesus described Himself as a bridegroom enjoying a wedding feast. Luke 10:21 says He rejoiced in the Spirit. Jesus spoke of His joy in John 15:11 when He said, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." In John 6:24 He promised to give His disciples a lifetime supply of joy. “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." The God-man who walked the earth for 33 years must have went about with a twinkle in His eye, a smile on His face, and laughter that rang out in the most joyous way.
And we can share in His joy.
The early church was characterized by joy. In Acts 2:46 it says, "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts." Acts 13:52 says the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Nehemiah 8:10 says the joy of the Lord is our strength. Romans 14:17 says joy is a distinguishing characteristic of the kingdom: "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." In Philippians, Paul calls us again and again to rejoice. First Thessalonians 5:16 instructs us to rejoice always. Joy is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Since joy is a fruit of the spirit, it’s not something we can muster up on our own – it is a gift of God’s grace.
Joy is so much more than happiness. Happiness depends on circumstances. When our circumstances are good, we are happy. But joy goes deeper than that. Joy is the calm delight in who God is and what He has done. Since joy isn’t dependent on circumstances, we can have joy in the darkest of seasons. In fact James 1:2 tells us to count it all joy when we face trials.
But if we are honest, we don’t always rejoice. What steals our joy? When we get our eyes off of Jesus and focused on ourselves or our circumstances, our joy begins to dwindle. When we put our hope in earthly things, and then those things disappoint, as they always will, we lose our joy. When we make life all about us and our needs and desires, and then when life doesn’t bend to our will, we get all bent out of shape and our joy suffers.
But when we abide in Christ and are filled with His Spirit, our joy multiplies. Listen to the prophet Habakkuk: "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation" (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
What is your 'even if'?
Even if I don’t get the gifts I want for Christmas, yet I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
Even if the test results come back positive, yet I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
Even if my teen makes a bad choice, yet I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. Even if that prayer is never answered with a yes, yet I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
Psalm 30:5 says weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Scripture tells us that in His presence is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11). It’s not found anywhere else.
Joy is Coming
You and I live between the two advents of Christ. The Old Testament saints waited eagerly for the coming of the Messiah. Are we scanning the horizon waiting for the arrival of Jesus, the second coming of Christ? Not only do we look back to the manger, but we look forward to the day when the skies will split open and the Son of Man will come with great power.
He is coming soon. And what joy and celebration there will be!
"Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 1:24-25).
"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory" (1 Peter 1:8).