I was rereading the Christmas story again this week. As I posted earlier, my prayer this year has been that I can hear the story fresh again. As I was reading through Luke 2 this morning, one of the things that angels said stood out to me. In the angels’ announcement to the shepherds they state,
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
If you read through the Christmas story, there are a significant number of mentions of joy. I think this passage in Luke is the pinnacle. Can you imagine the heavens opening up and angels declaring that the JOY of the Lord is coming to earth in the form of a little baby that has been born in Bethlehem? Wow. However, I think we can agree that joy is an elusive idea. it’s something that we have a hard time explaining, and something that we often have an even harder time experiencing. In fact, I think that we often tell people (maybe subtly) that joy isn’t something you experience, it’s just something you know cognitively.
As I read through the story, I was struck by the fact that I think for many years I have misunderstood joy. I’ve often taught, and heard taught many times, that the joy that God brings is a joy that comes regardless of circumstances. It is an inner cheerfulness or happiness that is detached from reality, but grounded in God (or something like that…). Many people say it is detached from the things in life that we are going through, and therefore, whatever you are facing in life you can still have joy. While that’s a comforting idea, I do not think it is a biblical explanation of joy… at all.
Here is the problem with the previously stated view of joy; joy in the scriptures in general, but definitely in this passage, is directly tied to circumstances. The angels announcement does not read, “Take heart, don’t fear, nothing in your life is going to change… but you will now have joy.” No, no, no! The angels state that everything is changing because a savior is going to be born! The coming of a savior is directly tied to our joy… it was back then and it is today. And it was the coming of the savior that changed their circumstances – maybe not materially, but in a definite real way.
I think that the problem for us is that Christianity and faith in general has become such an ethereal thing that we fail to realize that our salvation actually does change our circumstances! Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3, “We have been (past tense) blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ…” Instead of thinking that joy comes without regard to circumstances, biblical joy says that God has directly and eternally changed your circumstances. Biblical joy says that what you have in Christ, ow, today, is better than anything difficult you could ever go through. Better in a very real way! That’s where Paul lands in his great exposition of joy in the book of Philippians. Yes he’s in jail. And yes his situation is difficult, but for him Jesus is simply better (Phil 3:7-11). We just have such a hard time believing that; it’s easier for us to keep it as an other worldly thing altogether. But that isn’t biblical joy.
Biblical JOY boldly states that Jesus has come… and He has changed everything.