Finding joy that lasts in the birth of Christ
Christmas is a time of joy and festivity in what would otherwise be a gloomy time of year (for those of us in the northern hemisphere at least). Much of the season bears very little resemblance to a celebration of the birth of Christ. The joy and happiness comes from the here and now – gathering together with family, attending parties, eating and drinking the holiday season away. So when it’s all finished, and January looms large, the joy can often prove to be fleeting and short-lived. The realities of life and work come back to bite us.
Surely Christmas doesn’t need to be as shallow as this? Can we recapture something of a more permanent joy and rejoicing to help us through life with more optimism and hope?
Joy at the birth of Christ
If we turn to the narratives about the birth of Christ, away from the festivities of the here and now, we find that they are full of joy.
Elizabeth, on hearing the sound of Mary the mother of Jesus approaching, exclaimed that her own baby leapt for joy in her womb, (Luke 1:44).
The shepherds were startled with the angel’s announcement of “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10), and then suddenly overcome with the sound of ringing praise of “Glory to God in the highest” at the momentous and joyful occasion, (Luke 2:13-14).
The wise men who had travelled vast distances to see Jesus “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” when they saw the star again resting over the place where Jesus was, (Matthew 2:10).
Joy in the face of terrible darkness
It’s also true to say that the nativity stories are littered with sadness and darkness in places. Take, for example, the terrible evil of boys slaughtered by King Herod (Matthew 2:16-18), or more personally, the ominous words to Mary by old Simeon in the temple; “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). As well as the dreadful atrocities committed by those in power, there is a recognition that Mary herself would feel deep seated sorrowful emotions because of what would eventually transpire. Alongside these moments of great evil and the hardships of life, the joy that the birth of Jesus heralds is accentuated even more. With darkness all around, the announcement that Jesus will bring joy is all the more intense.
What is it about the birth of this child that can create a joy able to penetrate through the darkness of the world to create a lasting optimism?
Jesus is a saviour
The child was declared to be a saviour. He would bring true and lasting salvation from sin and death. In a world of ongoing suffering and darkness, the promise of something that would restore this world shines brightly with hope. But this isn’t just some ethereal hope for change. God proved that he was serious about this, but fathering his own Son and giving him over to a life of suffering, mortality and death, so that we can truly begin to appreciate the love that He has for us. That’s how John 3:16 – the most famous verse in the Bible – describes it:
The birth of Jesus Christ is therefore a source of lasting joy because it was a sign that God was serious about saving humanity. The willingness to raise up his own Son, and be prepared to allow him to be taken and killed, is proof that God wants to win our hearts and to save us from our own darkness. Jesus is born into a world of darkness to offer us all light and life.
Living in a world that is still full of darkness can be hard to bear. Wherever you look there is war, corruption, conflict all sorts of terrible evil. Superficial festivities might help us to escape the realities of this darkness for a moment, but a relationship with Jesus, the one born as the Son of God, can bring some lasting joy. A joy in spite of darkness, that looks forward to God’s ultimate resolution when his kingdom fills this world to bring peace and safety and life.
More resources about the birth of Jesus
- Episode 37: “How can we know Jesus?” – We talk about practical ways of getting to know Jesus even though we only have written accounts in the Gospels to work with. Just as we change when we know and love someone really well, knowing Jesus should change us too.
- Episode 58: “The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” – How can Jesus uniquely be called the Son of God? Does calling him the Son of God make him Deity in any sense? What is Jesus claiming when he says he is the Son of God? All these questions and more are considered in this episode.
- Episode 16: “Discover Jesus in Matthew (1) First things first” – Famous names and outsider characters – they’re all in the family tree of Jesus right at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel! Laurence Davenport and Dan Weatherall start a series of episodes that explores this book in greater detail to discover the real Jesus. Listen in to find out why some apparently dubious (but actually faithful) women feature in the opening verses of this Gospel and what that helps us to discover about Jesus!
- Episode 18: “Discover Jesus in Matthew (2) God with us” – Laurence Davenport and Dan Weatherall continue delving into the gospel of Matthew. The focus this time is how well structured the book is around major themes that are developed throughout the book. Jesus is presented as someone with authority and he is given that curious name, Immanuel. What does that mean? And how would the first readers of Matthew have understood God to be with them?
- Blog: The birth of Jesus – A Christmas statistic that makes sense – A recent survey puts a surprising number of American Christians outside orthodoxy in relation to the birth of Jesus and his supposed pre-existence. Is there a good explanation for this? Perhaps the straightforward narrative of scripture, and its teaching about the man Jesus Christ, is what sincere church-goers pick up on with good reason.