True Christmas Joy
Merry Christmas! We’ve been walking in a time of penitence and preparation, self-reflection and humility, throughout the season of Advent. And while those are good things to hold on to as we walk through this life, they exist to point to something else. In the new heavens and the new earth, the preparation and penitence will have been accomplished, and left behind. And that’s because the thing they were pointing to will be the new reality in which the people of God live. We walk through that rhythm and experience the arrival of the new, today, on Christmas morning. In Christmas the kingdom of God which was stealthily infiltrating the kingdom of darkness makes its first full appearance, and not by a foot soldier, but by the King Himself. The Savior of All Creation has arrived in his world, so desperately in need of saving, of restoration, of justice, and righteousness. But he doesn’t come to the people who seem to be empowered to administer those things. He begins his incarnation in what looks like a desperate situation, in a stable. And when the angels appear, they pass by the lights of the city. They pass by the powerful and the rich and the comfortable, the senators, and judges, and the tech moguls, and they appear to the vulnerable and uncultured, people sleeping under the stars out in the country, the shepherds. There was room in their hearts for him. The fast talking, soul killing marketing of the holiday season, starting in September, is nowhere to be found. The anxiety of finding the perfect gift, or one that’s even just good enough, the pressure of deals, deals, deals, did not weigh on them.
And when the angels began their song, Gloria in excelsis Deo, glory to God in the highest, they did it with the night sky as their backdrop. In a new, unprecedented way, God was showing his grace to humanity, bringing peace, showing his favor. The pronouncement was more than information, it was and is good news, offered in the context of worship. The news was out that the kingdom of God has arrived in the person of the King himself, and he can be seen, touched, embraced. He’s surrounded by animals, a picture of the new Adam in the new Garden of Eden, ready to live out a right relationship with God. And he lies in a wooden box, a little ark, the picture of humanity’s salvation. And while these details are not unimportant, they pale in the presence of God Himself, having taken on humanity, having made himself vulnerable, even killable. With so many pretenders to the throne of the world, with so many vying for power, the Son of God, the true king arrives uncorrupted and incorruptible to establish true justice and righteousness.
And that is the true joy of Christmas. We have to be careful to guard it, to redirect and calibrate our joy there. Because that picture of God with us is just not how joy is presented in our world. We sometimes see joy presented just for joy’s sake. Hashtag joy. But the joy of Christmas is not joy for joy’s sake. To find joy in the true person of Christmas is to take the anxiety and dissonance away from being told you need to be joyful, because it’s joy time. To try to drum up joy for no reason is absolutely insane. It’s not true. It participates in a lie. Actual joy doesn’t look at joy itself. Joy is always a byproduct of looking to something else.
If the enemy of our souls can’t make us insane and exhausted by having us drum up joy out of nothing, the next place we’re encouraged to go is to find joy in things, material possessions, little joy sparks: that great Christmas sweater, the Lexus with the bow on top. But the Christ of Christmas lay in a manger by barnyard animals. To make Christmas about material things is a misunderstanding at best, because it is joy misplaced, and ultimately it’s a lie. The wisemen gave gifts, but the moment was not about them.
If we must be noble, the highest joy to be found in Christmas that isn’t the Christ child himself, is to be with our family. Hashtag Family. Feasting for feasting’s sake. Again, any feast worth holding is not held in honor of feasting itself. When it is, it feels empty, and that’s because it is empty. Joy is a byproduct. It’s a great joy to rightly observe Christmas, to look at the miracle of the promises of God unfolding at the incarnation, and to share that joy with those dear to us. But we’re encouraged by the enemy of our souls to keep the part of our joy that comes from sharing with family and to discard the true joy of Christ’s birth that we’ve gathered with family to share in the first place. Don’t separate the joy of gathering with family from it’s source in the joy of Christ’s coming to save them.
So you’re saying, at Christmas, our joy shouldn’t just be there, just because, it shouldn’t focus on presents, it shouldn’t focus on family? Well, not exactly. Please enjoy your family today. Please enjoy giving and receiving presents. But do so as an extension of what happened on that first Christmas. Look at Jesus and what he came to do. If you think about it long enough, if you’ve been walking through the self-examination of Advent and see the grace that God pours on you in the sending of his Son, you will have true joy this Christmas. Actual Christmas joy. We need to be careful to keep the good news of Christmas as our source of joy, and let all other joys fall down before him. Otherwise, we’re in danger of misdirecting our joy, finding joy in partial truths and outright lies, at the expense of true joy. And that is exactly the kind of thing that Jesus came to save us from. Don’t put yourself in the situation of needing saving from Christmas, of all things!
Before we close, let’s return to the moment of Christmas. With santas and sleigh bells and everything else melting away, let’s turn to Jesus in worship and thankfulness. O come let us adore him, as they say. With the prophet, let us call him Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, as we will throughout eternity. The judge has come to bring order to our chaos. False claims to power will end. Our hearts and minds will cease to be bombarded by worldliness at every turn. The king has come to make all things right. To hit the big undo button on human wickedness and put it to an end. To send his unending peace into our hearts, by making peace with God on our behalf. By dying for the ungodly and ransoming our souls from our own captivity. Everything has changed. We can see a way out of humanity’s hopelessness. Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, has died on our behalf, and is preparing a place for us even now. So then, let us keep the feast of Christmas. Let us rightly align our joy with the Christ of Christmas. Let’s celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ to shine his light into a darkened world, to begin to heal it with his presence, to show that God is for us as Immanuel, and let us receive his peace, true peace, even now, this day and always.