There is deep irony in the way our culture celebrates Christmas. Even the words we use, like “good cheer,” the “season of Christmas,” and being “merry and bright” are a striking contrast to the frustration experienced at the first Christmas. Imagine being a young peasant girl, pregnant in an impossible way on a journey to change the world. Our snowflakes and fake holly berries seem pretty fluffy and insubstantial compared to that. And yet, the Angels did proclaim this to be JOY to the world! The joy that comes from the good news of a Savior who made His entrance into the world.
Joy is not identified by things like ornaments and bright colors. It’s not the warm, fuzzy feelings we associate with nostalgia. In his book Joy for the World, Greg Forster wrote, “When I say joy, I don't mean an emotion. I mean the flourishing of the whole person in mind, heart, and life. This flourishing is a transformation that extends to all of life as an integrated totality.” That means that real joy is found in the richness of life as God created it to be. Jesus was born to bring wholeness, and from wholeness emerges true joy!
This goes deeper than “good cheer,” though. The depth of this joy cannot be separated from the accompanying struggle because it is the struggle—the work that God did to offer us wholeness—that makes joy all the more beautiful. The Lord says that the struggles we face are like the labor pains of a woman giving birth. But He promises that when the time of labor has passed, nothing will compare to the joy of wholeness and being one with God.
Because this is the deep, true joy that God offers, we miraculously find that we are able to have a certain levity in sorrow, a lightness of spirit while we wait for our Savior’s return. “Good cheer” in the midst of pain is still ironic, but in a true and beautiful way. We are “bright” as the light of God in the world. And setting aside a season to turn our hearts towards the promises of God becomes an echo that precedes the perfect joy that we will one day have when we meet Him face-to-face.