Repeat the Sounding Joy
Most people associate Christmas with good feelings: bright lights, hot chocolate, sweet cookies, nostalgic movies, holiday music, friends and family, a decorated pine, and stockings hung by the chimney with care. But what do you do when the Christmas spirit skips your house? What can you do when Christmas doesn’t seem to work? How can you rediscover joy this Christmas?
Our Christmas movies all seem to be after this same thing. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is about a guy who gets to see what life would look for everyone else if he were never born. After a tour of town with an second-rate angel, he rediscovers the joy of his friends and family. Charles Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” is about a rich guy who reorganizes his life once he sees what it would be like to lose it. Last but not least, “Home Alone” is about a spoiled kid who gets left behind, terrorizes criminals, and wishes for nothing more than for his parents and siblings to come back home. And of course, there’s the Grinch who’s heart is two-sizes too small. Though the three words that best describe him are stink, stank, and stunk, he eventually discovers the joy of friendship and feasting.
All of these movies share one thing in common, the main transformation in the life of the central character is not a new set of circumstances, but a change of heart. Maybe they’re on to something. So, the question becomes, “How can we have a change of heart this Christmas?”
Consider another movie, “A Charlie Brown Christmas .” At one point in the film Charlie Brown blurts out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” This is when Linus, the little boy with the blue blanket, steps up to the mic, and begins quoting Luke 2. As one article points out, Linus ceaselessly clasps his security blanket throughout the film. But when he quotes the angel’s words “fear not” it falls to his side. It’s only then that he is able to let go.
Linus’ example is helpful for us today. When we put everything in proper perspective, what do we have to fear if God is for us (Romans 8:31)? If the creator of the universe has stepped across the threshold of time, space, matter, and energy—phenomenal, cosmic, power in itty- bitty, living space—then who can be against us? Whom shall we fear? If God came to rescue us, what is there to be afraid of?
In the Luke 2 passage, in the angels’ pronouncement we find not only the meaning of Christmas, that Christ was born—the promised child of the prophecies, the Son of God, the Savior of the world—but we also find our source for rediscovering joy this Christmas. “Glory to God in the highest,” the angels proclaimed,“and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The obvious question in response is “with whom is God well pleased?”
The Apostle John answers that for us in his second epistle when he says, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love” (2 John 3, ESV). We can have grace, mercy, and peace from God through Jesus. But John makes clear, we receive this as truth and love. We can’t pick and choose. We can’t reject the truth about Jesus but expect his love. We cannot expect to have the joy of Christmas if we reject the truth of Christmas. The Apostle makes this clear in no uncertain terms:
I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 4-7, ESV)
When we reject the truth of who Jesus is, we reject the very joy announced by the angels. Once we accept the truth of God’s son, we are then commanded to walk “in the truth,” to “walk according to his commandments,” and to “love one another.” This is the path of joy. We ignore this to our detriment. The truth of Christmas is one that works itself out in love for God and love for others, what Jesus called the two greatest commandments.
If you are a Christian and you are struggling, for any number of reasons, to sense the joy of Christmas, I encourage you to remind yourself of the love of Jesus. As John reminds us, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Accept this love for yourself, and spread this love to others, not a watered down version of the Christmas story, but the meaty, soul sustaining truth of the love of God revealed in a humble village in the Middle East two thousand years ago.
As Christians this is a truth that is meant to be celebrated together. It is not to be confined to isolated reflection and personal devotion, but intended to be shared and shouted from the mountain tops. Just look at how the Apostle John closes his letter, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12, ESV).
Did you notice, John didn’t say he wanted to come to them so their joy might be complete? He said our joy. John has written to them through the inspiration of the Spirit, the words that would be preserved for the building up of believers throughout the history of the church. But he longed to be with them to rehearse these truths so that their shared joy might be complete.
It’s my prayer that we might all get a taste, even if in the midst of real struggles, to experience complete joy this Christmas. So, if you are suffering, don’t attempt this season alone. If you’re in a place of strength, share your strength with those for whom this time of year is difficult. And for all of us who love this baby born to be king, let’s repeat the sounding joy: for unto us a Savior is born who is Christ the Lord.