Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Recently, to my kid's delight, we received a catalogue in the mail filled with pages and pages of toys–everything my two little girls could think they needed. The title on the cover said, "Joy Has Arrived." Given their squealing and excited wiggles, I'd say the title was aptly chosen. And yet, I stood there for a minute, looking over it slowly shaking my head.
"Joy has arrived." What a bold claim from advertisers. Now having experienced six Christmases with our little ones, I know these promotions to be false. The joy of opening presents on Christmas morning just doesn't last. The thrill of new toys fades, and within a few months (if not minutes), those same eagerly craved toys soon come to collect dust under the bed.
Joy is such a common word this season. For many, it's typically easy to feel nostalgic energy and excitement during this season. Christmas lights twinkle while the cold nips at your nose. Hot chocolate becomes the delightful companion to hours of binge-worthy Christmas movies. But does this kind of joy really last? What about when there is a worldwide pandemic, division within your country, and you're not able to see family because of travel restrictions? When money is sparse, but bills overflow? When anxiety crouches behind the door of your heart, ready to attack? When there is one less person at your table this year, and your heart pangs with loss? Is the momentary escape we receive from small amusements or indulgences the best we can hope for? Can we define that as joy? There must be something more.
Indeed, Jesus Himself tells us how to have complete joy. He shows us that it's not found in traveling the world, in a great meal, or even in being with family for Christmas. While these are sweet blessings meant to point to the goodness of God, they don't last. The trip ends, the food disappears, the house empties. The moments don't last forever. Instead, Jesus points to a joy that endures. Read His words in John 15:
As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. "I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. "This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn't know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. "This is what I command you: Love one another.John 15:9-17
So how do we have joy in every season? We have it by abiding in God's love. It's less about escaping our problems and more about running into the Father's welcoming arms. This Christmas, we remember Christ who perfectly pursued us with the Father's love–a sacrificial love that laid down His life for the sake of ours, leaving the splendors of heaven to be born in a dirty barn; a pure love that did not seek His own way but made us, His servants, into His friends; a perfect love without beginning or end. Through Jesus's life, death, and resurrection, He restored us to God, destroying the power of sin and death and making us right with the Father. And He is coming again.
Only when we cling to God can we find joy when trials come (James 1:2-4)–only then can we experience the peace found in obedience to the Father's will and faithfully love those around us. This love isn't limited by political views or opposing decisions. Instead, we're called to love in spite of our differing opinions on COVID, vaccines, or politics.
As we abide in God and love those around us, we redirect our eyes from ourselves and onto the Father–to the One in whom we can find deep and lasting joy. What does it look like practically for you this Christmas? Maybe it looks like starting an Advent study, using this Christmas season to actively long for the coming of Christ. Maybe it looks like welcoming into your house for Christmas the single college student who can't travel home. Maybe it looks like being less generous toward yourself in order to open up opportunities to bless others. Maybe it looks like less shopping, less worrying, more praying.
Surely there is greater joy available to us than we can find in new toys, clothes, or even memories. As the psalmist declares, "You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound" (Psalm 4:7). God is better than all that this world has to offer–better than new things, good food, or great wine and better than typical Christmas traditions or the hustle and bustle of busy airports and presents under the tree. He is better than the best Christmas memory.
These are all gifts that point to the giver. The longings we feel this Christmas season remind us that He is coming again. As we abide in the Father's love, we long for the day when all will be made right–when He will heal our hurting hearts and fulfill our deepest longings. He will make all things new. Until then, we long and pray and wait. We remember and abide in His love, and we invite others to join in, creatively seeking ways to love those God has placed around us. We worship and rejoice because indeed, joy has arrived–His name is Jesus.