“Joy to the world!” the carol cries, and you look around at all the pain in your own life, in the lives of your friends, in the lives of strangers you meet only through headlines and broadcasts. And you think, Really? Joy?
It’s just like when the angels declared, “Peace on earth.” Peace? Seems like things have only been getting worse since that day, not better. It’s two thousand years later, and you don’t see much peace, any joy.
Is joy just a joke?
Maybe it’s worse for you at Christmas-time, this joyless-ness, this emptiness in the heart where a bright flame should be. For me, personally, it’s the opposite—Christmas awakens my embers of joy. But I understand if it’s not. You’re not alone, if the lights on the neighbors’ houses seem a mockery to your deepening dark. There is a whole host of silent sufferers in this country, in this world, for whom the “most wonderful time of the year” is actually the worst, but they dare not say so.
And here someone comes, telling you that Advent is all about joy. Joy! you scorn inside. In what?
Because in the end, joy is a joke, unless you look for it in the baby we’re supposed to be celebrating. Yes, joy is Jesus.
G. K. Chesterton said it: “Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.”
I have met a lot of Christians who haven’t let anyone else in on the secret, Christians who act quite the opposite of joyful. I have been one of those Christians, probably more often than I care to realize. But it shouldn’t be that way, because we as Christians have the most cause—have the only cause, in fact—to rejoice.
Ann Voskamp explains why:
The gigantic secret gift that He gives and we unwrap, that we never stop unwrapping—we who were barren now graced with the Child who lets us laugh with relief for all eternity. There is nothing left to want. There is nothing left to fear: “All fear is but the notion that God’s love ends.” And His for you never will. So loosen up, because the chains have been loosed, and laugh the laughter of freed.
How many times have you laughed today? A real laugh, not a forced, have-to-fit-in, have-to-pretend-it’s-all-okay laugh? Have you ever laughed just by yourself, an act of praise instead of performance?
Laughter, real laughter, is just the outward expression of joy, and we should have joy because God is good and God is with us.
Madeleine L’Engle reminds us: “Joy is in infallible sign of the presence of God.”
Joy proves Emmanuel. Emmanuel produces joy.
You say you don’t feel joy, but that is the gift of Christmas: Even when we feel alone and we feel hopeless and we feel empty—God is with us, God has given us a hope that does not disappoint, and God has filled us with purpose and love and, yes, joy. Joy inexpressible, Peter calls it.
Your heart lies. You have to lead it. You may have heard that love is a verb, and the same is true for joy. It’s a choice, to rejoice. Start listing the things that went right that day. Start giving thanks for little things out loud. Start reminding yourself of the Gospel:
There’s your winter wonderland set up on the cosmic stage: the Son is sent in through the fallen kingdom’s back door, the King is born into a barn to wrest the forces from the pit, slay the demons, crush the head of the evil one, and woo the world back to life. The war is bloody. It is heinously dark. And on Cavalry, evil corners the Son. Iron spikes the King to a Tree and laughs haunting triumph—
This Gospel is supposed to bring me joy? you ask.
Wait. There’s more.
… and laughs hautning triumph—only to have the light shatter the dark and the King fling off the rotting grave clothes and rise.
You can cry, “He is risen!” at Christmas, too.
When you tell yourself that Story every day, you are fighting for joy. You are reminding yourself why there is reason for joy: God is good, and God is with us. I am sinner, but Jesus is the Savior. How great our joy, indeed. It’s a “joy beyond the walls of the world,” as Tolkien put it.
I love what Martin Luther says: “You have as much laughter as you have faith.”
We should be marked by our laughter, by our joy. Not by our happiness—the easy rush of pleasant emotions due to fortunate circumstances. By our joy—the hard choice to give thanks no matter what happens because we remember how God has been faithful in the past and we trust Him to be so right now and forevermore in all things.
Joy is not a joke, not if you have Jesus. And I know—you may still be struggling for joy, even if you do have Jesus. It’s not easy, and this world can feel like a black hole that devours any joy we manage to find, and I don’t have any astounding advice that will pierce your pain. Jesus never promised a perfect life, an easy fight. He just promised to be with us, to help us in the struggle, and perhaps the largest battle in the war for joy is fighting to trust His promises.
So even when the cold air of Christmas leaves you colder inside, and the the cheery calls of “Happy Holidays!” rub raw wounds, and twinkling tinsel blinds your blurry eyes—even when you don’t feel a lick of anything joyful—
Be still and know.
Be still and know that the Father
Will hasten down from His throne
He will rejoice over you with song
So set your face against the night
And raise your broken voice
“Joy inexpressible” ~ 1 Peter 1:18
“There’s your winter wonderland …” ~ Ann Voskamp
“Rejoice” lyrics ~ Andrew Peterson