LAST NEW YEAR’S EVE, I was on a Zoom call with some of my friends from Bible Camp. We all took a turn sharing prayer requests, and I began noticing a theme when the third person in a row commented on how they needed prayer so they could get their joy back because they weren’t feeling it any longer.
There is a tendency to equate joy with happiness, and happiness is often held on a higher pedestal than joy. When circumstances are poor, we cling to the false belief that God only wants us to be happy. The truth is that He wants so much more for us than a feeling that is based on earthly circumstances.
The fruit of the Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22), and this is very different from the feeling of happiness. When I think about Jesus’ miraculous birth, the very thing we celebrate at Christmas time, I am reminded of how much Joy was lying swaddled in that manger. The God of Joy, who calls all of us to experience joyfulness at all times (1 Thessalonians 5:16 NLT), became a human being just like you and me. I think we often forget the weight Jesus’ birth carries. The God who created our emotions, our feelings, our thoughts, and our bodies, became a Man with all of those things and lived His life in a sinless way that we could never achieve. Jesus is holy and He is fully God and human. He is Emmanuel, God come to dwell with us – this broken group known as humans.
There is an excellent line in the famous Christmas carol, O, Holy Night, that says: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” Why did the weary world rejoice on that first Christmas night many years ago? Think about Joseph and Mary. What was there to rejoice in after travelling for miles in a body that was nine-months pregnant? What was there to rejoice over in the face of being turned away from the inn that was, seemingly, their last hope for lodging?
The answer was in the One whose face looked like any other Hebrew newborn boy. He cried in the same way, He learned how to eat in the same way, He had chubby fists and sparkling eyes like every other child. But there was something behind that typical sparkle. Something more akin to the radiance that Moses met on Sinai which made him hide his face in the rocks beneath his feet. This baby in the virgin’s arms bore flesh like a man and divinity like the God He was.
This Jesus was the One his parents, the innkeeper, and the shepherds in the field outside had all been waiting for. The Messiah didn’t come on a horse with an army but as a helpless child who depended on humans to raise Him, just like all of us. The Christmas story is a story of joy because it is where Joy became incarnate. The weary world could finally exhale because her King had come at last.