Solid Joy

joyThe angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 1:10-11

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel good about life and happy with our circumstances all the time? I find that I can keep it up for a few hours until that difficult person crosses my path or a bill comes in the mail.

Then the pleasant feeling shatters. It’s gone. And if I manage to gain it back, the positive outlook returns only after a strenuous effort to talk myself into being happy again.

If you can relate, then perhaps like me, you need to discover a way to live with a sense of joy–one that is deeper than the emotion of happiness and stronger than the unexpected trials that come our way.

This kind of joy flows from God himself. Like true peace, joy can’t be produced in our own hearts. It must come from God’s Holy Spirit. This is why joy is counted among the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. It is a gift, something God alone gives to us.

This is the very essence of Christmas. God is granting us something we can’t gain for ourselves. He gives favor to people who have done nothing to deserve it. This favor comes in the bundle of a newborn baby destined to be the Savior of the world. The whole plan found its design in the mind of a heavenly father. A father who loves us very much.

It was enough to make a whole angel army break out in song. Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors.

Joy. The condition of a heart that understands what God has done for it.

Joy. It comes from God himself and defines our life as his children.

Joy. Deeper than pain. Longer-lasting than any level of happiness. It flows on and on carrying us, strengthening us, until the day we enter into heaven for ourselves and begin to experience the reality of eternity.

When full of this joy, no problem can keep us down. Relationships gain perspective. The miseries of the world come under God’s sovereign authority. And all because we have a Savior who entered the world at Christmas.

“Don’t be afraid,” the angel said. “For see, I bring you good news of great joy for all the people.”

The angel’s message is for you. For me. For everyone who has fallen short of God’s glory.

“Today.” Now. This very minute, the Lord is breaking into our lives. “In the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord.”

In the words of the prophet Isaiah, joy goes on forever, unbroken and unrestrained. “Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 51:11).

He’s talking about us who believe in Jesus’ birth, his death, and his resurrection. Everlasting joy will crown your head. Joy will overtake you. Sorrow and sighing will flee away. What a wonderful gift to receive for Christmas.



Coming Home for Christmas

DoorSo he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. –Ephesians 2:17-19

With Christmas day less than two weeks away, we’re entering the time of year when people are making plans to travel. Some of us may only need to go a few miles to reach our destinations, while others may need to drive or fly long distances. Our reasons are all the same.

We’re coming home for Christmas.

The word home is loaded with hopes and expectations. Time spent there may include sharing a meal with loved ones or exchanging gifts. It may mean catching up on stories and news with people we haven’t seen for a while. It might also involve sharing in games or concerts and making special memories.

These things are all wonderful, and we might enjoy them very much, but they still may not completely answer our longing for home. Somewhere that we can find peace. A place where we know we will never get hurt again. A space where loss cannot happen, we never have to say good-bye, and we won’t ever be forced to leave it.

Home. A place to stay for as long as we want with people we love. It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? This is what we’re all hoping for, and what we might be searching for. And yet, it seems so difficult to find. Once we think we may have found it, then it disappears into evaporation right before our eyes. We just can’t seem to hold on to that elusive place our hearts so desperately want to have.

Mary and Joseph strayed far from home at the time their first child was about to enter the world. Their travel did not happen by choice. It was forced upon them by a tyrannical ruler in the Roman Empire. I wonder how Mary felt as distance grew between her, their families, and their home town.

A young woman ready to deliver a baby would want the comfort of her mother and the trusted local midwife nearby. How she must have longed at times for Joseph to just turn the donkey around. It he’d take her back home, she could give birth in her own bed instead of along the road or among strangers.

For as uncertain as the trip may have been for Mary, a moment arrived when she came home. All the things she longed for lay wrapped in the bundle in her arms. This new baby she and Joseph named Jesus would bring her salvation. He would offer her a grace that overcame any of the pain and distress in her journey to Bethlehem. His limitless provisions of peace and love would satisfy her better than the comforts of home back in Nazareth ever could.

She was welcome to stay in this place for as long as she wished. The stark manger in a musty barn probably didn’t hold much charm, but the promise of a relationship with this newborn reached into eternity. Jesus gave her a place in his kingdom that would never end. Mary never needed to leave. She wouldn’t need to say good-bye to him or sustain any loss of his favor and care. She was his and he was hers. Forever.

Are you living far from God this holiday season? Have you lost your way home or forgotten how to find it? Jesus knows your way home. He is your way home. He stands at the door ready to welcome you in.

All Through the Night

babyBut I have calmed and quieted myself. I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forever more. –Psalm 131:2,3

Be still and know that I am God. –Psalm 46:10

He will take great delight in you. In his love he will rejoice over you with singing. –Zephaniah 3:17

Monday night, I attended a fabulous concert at Pella High School. Both concert bands, the percussion ensembles, and the orchestra performed holiday music. Peeking out of one of the pieces the orchestra played was a tender lullaby, the title of the song not generally recognized among lists of Christmas carols and songs about jingle bells or Santa coming to town.

And yet it belonged. For a moment, my heart stilled as the lyrics to the song flowed through my mind.

Sleep my child, peace attend thee. All through the night.

Guardian angels God will send thee. All through the night.

Soft the drowsy hours are creeping. Hill and dale in slumber sleeping.

I my loving vigil keeping. All through the night.

As I listened, I pictured Mary, a new mother in a strange town, watching her newborn Christ child sleep in the straw-filled manger. Along with the host of angels singing God’s praise in the heavens, she would watch over this child. Guard him. Love him. All through the night.

The orchestra moved on to another song, this one with a bit more drive and holiday association, but my thoughts remained on the lullaby. What if the child in need of protection and love is me or you? And what if the singer of the lullaby isn’t a young mother but God himself?

Sleep my child, peace attend thee. All through the night.

I my loving vigil keeping. All through the night.

God the father delights to lavish on us his tender care. We can rest safe and sound in his arms. Like the child with its mother in Psalm 131, we can be calm, quiet, and at peace while dark hours of pain or uncertainty or grief pass by. God is there singing over us. Loving us. Guarding us. All through the night.