Christmas and joy seem to go hand in hand. We sing things like “Joy to the world” or “Joyful, all ye nations rise!” We send Christmas cards about joy and wear ugly sweaters that proclaim our joy. There’s even a movie out there called Christmas Joy. The root of real Christmas joy, however, isn’t found in lights and gifts and movies. Most of these Christmas things don’t bring real joy at all, but happiness. As our Advent series continues, let’s look at two examples of how the birth of Christ brought joy and what they reveal to us about the true nature of joy.
The Angel’s Announcement
“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 Savior, 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).
In Luke’s gospel, an angel appeared to announce the birth of Christ to shepherds in a nearby field. The angel stated that it brought a message of “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” That promise of joy is then followed with the reason for the joy. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Thabiti Anyabwile points out that this is the only place in Scripture in which we see all of these titles of Jesus brought together: Savior, Christ (Greek for Messiah), and Lord. This night is a joyful night because the King has come. The Savior of mankind, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for, the Lord of creation has come to Earth to redeem His people. And these shepherds didn’t just hear the message and go back to watching sheep. The joy was infectious. After going into Bethlehem and seeing the newborn king, told others about this joyous news (Lk. 2:17). They eventually returned to their fields, but they did so joyfully, praising God and glorifying Him for sending their Messiah (Lk. 2:20). Their joy was rooted in the presence of Christ.
“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 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.’”
This is the song Mary sang in praise after she visited her cousin Elizabeth to tell her about the news she had received from the angel, that she would give birth to the Messiah. Why is she praising God in this moment? Most of us, after receiving the news Mary just got, would be confused and panicked to say the least! Not Mary, though. Mary rejoices and praises God because, she says, she is blessed and God has done great things for her. What great thing did God do? He gave her, and through her, the world, the gift of His presence. Mary recognized that, in spite of all the confusion and turmoil that she might go through because she was an unmarried, pregnant virgin, the fact of God returning to dwell among His people was a joyful thing. It deserved praise. Her joy was found not in herself, but in the presence of Christ.
The Nature of Joy
So we know that these shepherds and this young girl found joy in the announcement of Christ’s birth, but what does this teach us about true joy? To understand, we have to note a key similarity in these examples. Both the shepherds and Mary were of what Mary called “humble estate.” They were very low on the social scale. Mary’s situation actually became even more complicated because of the news she received. But note, neither the shepherds’ or Mary’s material or financial situation improved because of the advent of Christ. The shepherds didn’t become rich. They didn’t become powerful. They still had to tend sheep. After visiting the baby Jesus, they had to return to their fields. Mary didn’t become wealthy or honored. She probably got a lot of sideways glances and unkind remarks. So why were they joyful? Why did they consider themselves blessed? Because they recognized that they had been given the greatest blessing possible: The presence of Christ.
True joy is not found in circumstances. That’s happiness. Little temporal things that we consider blessings can’t give joy. Money can’t bring joy. A new job or car can’t bring joy. Good health can’t bring joy. If your soul hasn’t found joy in Christ, circumstances can’t provide it. However, the other side of that coin is this: If your soul has found true joy in Christ, circumstances can’t take it away. They may take your temporal happiness, but not the joy that is found in knowing Christ has redeemed you and eternal life is in your future. The shepherds’ circumstances probably didn’t lend themselves to much happiness. Shepherding was a difficult and unglamorous occupation. Mary’s new circumstances definitely weren’t something we would think of as “happy.” She was an unmarried virgin who now had to explain her pregnancy to Joseph and others. But the joy that Luke talks about wasn’t found in those circumstances. It was found in Christ.
This Christmas season, remember the true cause of joy. The advent of Christ, hope dawning in Bethlehem for mankind, brings joy regardless of circumstance. If you are a believer, no earthly thing can take away the joy of knowing Christ and resting in His promise of eternal life. And if you find yourself in need of this joy, what better time to begin a new life in Christ than during the season in which we celebrate His birth?