“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 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.’” (Luke 2:8-11)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”(Philippians 4:4)
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” We have been singing this Christmas carol for three hundred years because of what the angel said to the shepherds on that first Christmas day. The shepherds rejoiced. The magi also rejoiced with great joy as the star led them to the long-awaited King of the Jews foretold by Daniel. (Matthew 2:10; Daniel 7:13-14) Seventy-two disciples would later rejoice as Jesus empowered them to minister healing and deliverance to people. (Luke 10:17) The women who followed Jesus reacted with great joy to the angelic news of His resurrection. (Matthew 28:10)
The apostles were filled with great joy at the ascension of Jesus and their commission to be His Holy Spirit-empowered witnesses in the world. (Luke 24:45-53) Great joy later broke out as that witness of Jewish Christians began bringing Gentiles into God’s Kingdom. (Acts 13:38, 15:3)
Forms of the words, “joy” and “rejoice”, appear over 440 times in the Bible. Long before Jesus arrived, God’s people were being told to be glad in the Lord, rejoice, and shout for joy. (Psalm 32:10-11) The apostle Paul says followers of Jesus are to “rejoice always”. Yet for far too many Christians in our nation today, joy, and most particularly abiding joy, is elusive. Why?
The most obvious answer to explain our lack of joy is the condition of the world around us. On the international front, we have radical Islamic terrorism, the nuclear saber-rattling of North Korea, and Russian cyberwarfare. On the national front, we have political and media-driven divisiveness, the brokenness of a hyper-sexualized culture, and a surge in public acts of violence that look markedly like violent computer games made real. Locally, almost every family has been wounded by addiction, abuse, pornography and/or divorce. There is no joy in any of that.
However, as is often the case, the most obvious answer is not the correct answer. Scripture makes it abundantly clear Christians are to have joy even in times of persecution and tribulation. (Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:23; 2 Corinthians 7:4, 8:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:6) Scripture also tells us how to achieve this joy.
First, we must understand what joy is. Dictionary.com defines “joy” as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying”. Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires”.
Do Christians have the prospect of possessing something exceptionally desirable? We have salvation – the forgiveness of our sins and the divine promise of everlasting life! All of us should live every day in the joy of our salvation. (Psalm 20:5, 51:12; 1 Peter 1:8) Our names are recorded in heaven! (Luke 10:20)
Likewise, Christians have the right to feel they are achieving well-being and success. The Lord desires our salvation on earth, not just in heaven. (Jeremiah 29:11) He uses even our trials and suffering to produce the fruit of good character. (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2) We can rejoice that all things work for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Just beyond the joy of our salvation is our joy in the God of our salvation: joy in the Lord. (Habakkuk 3:17-18; Philippians 3:1, 4:4) Our all-good, all-powerful triune God has drawn us into an eternal intimate relationship of love. (1 John 4:7-19; John 17:20-23) And this loving God now lives inside us! (John 15:3-11; Colossians 1:27) What an incredible reason for rejoicing!
Finally, just beyond our joy in the Lord is the greatest joy of all – the joy of the Lord. Jesus promises that if we love Him by obeying His commandments, He will manifest Himself to us and pour His divine joy into us. (John 14:21, 15:11) The Lord wants to give us His love, His peace and His joy. (Romans 5:5; John 14:27; Galatians 5:22-23) Wow!
A life filled with joy does not eliminate our compassion or our calling. We will continue to stand against evil and weep with those wounded by evil even as we pray for and encourage them. (Ephesians 6:10-20; Romans 12:15) In doing so, the joy of the Lord will provide strength for both us and the ones we care for. (Nehemiah 8:10)
The joy of salvation, joy in the Lord and joy of the Lord – this is the abiding joy of Jesus where we are invited to live. When we start living there, we will become the agents of joy to the world.
Have a blessed and merry Christmas!