When we think of Christmas, we often think of cheer. We string up bright, colorful lights. We make sugary treats. We sing upbeat songs. We wish one another a “merry” or a “happy” Christmas.
Christmas, however, calls for something deeper than cheer and merriment. Christmas, and Advent, call for joy.
Joy differentiates itself from happiness and cheer because joy does not depend on our circumstances. In the Bible, the people of God are called to rejoice throughout their history. While in deserts and exile, from the mouths of prisoners and lamenting prophets, the faithful are told to rejoice. While waiting on the promised One, the Messiah, the King, God’s people were to be filled with joy.
In John 15, Jesus teaches His disciples as He walks toward His death on earth. He talks to them about a Vine and branches. He tells them to abide in Him and to keep His commands and remain in His love. Then He says,
“I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
He told His disciples to remain in Him, to keep His commands, so that His joy may be in them. Joy differentiates itself from cheer and happiness in that joy comes from Jesus.
For many, Christmas is not cheery or happy or merry. Instead it can be a reminder of an emptiness, a pain, a longing unfulfilled. Enter, joy.
One of my favorite things about the first Christmas is its messiness. Jesus came to earth as a baby in the first century, born to a virgin mother in a small town and placed in a feeding trough. Immanuel’s first visitors were shepherds from the fields. These guys were out in the fields sleeping with their sheep when they heard the good news. These guys became the first to tell of Jesus.
The first Christmas probably wasn’t cheery. I imagine it was dirty, bloody, and dark. The people present were hurting, broken, and human like all of us. But the first Christmas was joyful.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.
In Jesus, we have joy that is complete. Our joy overflows because of Him. I can’t help but sing “Joy to the World” as I write these words. “Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing!” The third verse speaks to the way we come to Advent: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.”
He has come and is coming to heal our brokenness, our emptiness, our hurts. As we wait for His return, let us rejoice; let us receive our King. Let us abide in Him that our joy may be complete this season.
Elizabeth Hyndman is an editor and social media strategist for Lifeway Christian Resources. When she’s not inserting Oxford commas and answering questions about Bible studies, she likes to drink chai lattes, write, and explore her home city of Nashville, Tennessee. She blogs at edhyndman.com and tweets @edhyndman.