Sometimes when we use a word, we can mean very different things. As we approach Advent and Christmas, I realize the same thing can be said about what different people mean by the “joy” of this season. Often folks wish one another a Merry Christmas or a joyous Christmas season, really meaning they hope we are happy during the holidays. But let’s see what God’s take on the word joy is.
We have the message of the angel to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth recorded in Luke 2:10,11:
“10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The shepherds were given good news of great joy at the birth of this child. This infant was the Lord and Savior of the world! Jesus being both God and man came to rescue us from sin, Satan, and death. The shepherds were to rejoice and give thanks for God visiting His people with salvation through His Son.
In Philippians 4:4-7 the apostle Paul writes,
4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It is helpful to understand what Paul means by rejoicing. Paul clarifies the word rejoice by saying that we should “rejoice in the Lord.” Because we tend to connect joy with happy circumstances, we need to retrain our minds to know that we can have joy as we recount the many blessings that God has given to us and give thanks to Him for all His grace poured out on us. It is especially important during the season of Advent and Christmas that we do not punish ourselves with false guilt if we don’t feel happy or joyous. Paul commands us to rejoice and give thanks to God. But you cannot conjure up an emotion. Emotions come and go, but we can give thanks and rejoice in God’s blessings to us and His love for us.
Let us remember that Paul wrote Philippians while in prison and the words joy and rejoice are the words that Paul uses most often in that letter. From that alone we know that Paul’s joy was not based on his circumstances. His joy was found in being united to Christ by faith. His faith and trust in the Lord developed and strengthened during times of difficulty. Let us then take this season in stride, knowing that our 2020 Christmas season will be unique given to health and travel restrictions. Let’s adjust our expectations. Despite the context of what we are going through at this time, we are reminded by the message of God’s Word that in all times and always to rejoice in the Lord. His mercy endures forever!