Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Luke 2:10
From November through the end of January, I indulge in Cranberry Ginger Ale. The festive pink soda comes in a 2-liter bottle with holiday fonts and designs. I love the taste, the bubbly effervescence in my glass, and the seasonal specialness of finding it only during a certain time of the year. Despite my love for this drink, I have painfully learned the right way to open a new bottle: slowly and deliberately. A few years ago, caught up in the bustle, I quickly unscrewed the cap and ginger ale exploded across the room, bubbling madly over the lid. Splashes of pink ginger ale hit my backsplash, my cupboards, and even shot up to my ceiling. Not quick in a crisis, I yelled, “Ooooh”, as I watched it erupt from the bottle. Ethan and my father-in-law laughed as I stood frozen, unsure of what to do. Eventually, I found towels to clean up the mess.
I love all things that explode, bubble, burst, or pop. I share the joy of Pop Rocks with the little people I love. My daughter and I squeal with delight as the cotton candy-colored soaps bubble across our windows in a car wash. The Broadway show “Wicked” enchanted me during the ending when metallic emerald streamers explode from the theater ceiling. And I jumped on the bandwagon of hot chocolate bombs, watching them burst in my cup. I believe bubbles and glitter should adorn every festive get together. The giggles that ensue are contagious, as is the glitter that remains in your carpet but is worth the cleanup!
Joy is the final topic of this Advent series, and the easiest for me to receive and give. I am bubbly in nature, delighting in simple pleasures. Practicing the discipline of gratitude increases my joy. I also try to engage all five senses when experiencing joy. Watching fireflies dance in summer, hearing my grandson’s giggles, smelling cardamom pods, tasting bright oranges in the dead of winter, and snuggling cozily under warm blankets all bring me joy.
Joy is a sensory experience in the Christmas story as well. The Bible records the angel startled the sleepy shepherds with the message, “I bring you good tidings of great joy,” followed by an angelic chorus filling the sky with music. Mary swaddled her newborn baby in soft blankets, keeping him warm and cozy in the chilly stable. A bright star appeared in the sky, leading the wise men to baby Jesus, showering him with gifts, including the fragrant frankincense. And Mary prophesied in her song “He has fed the hungry with good things.”
Four times in the Biblical account of the Christmas story, the word joy is used to describe the coming of Jesus. Exceeding and great are used to qualify that joy, emphasizing its importance and magnitude. This joy is not the same as the happy feeling that rushes over you when you see fresh fallen snow, hear your favorite Christmas carol, or receive a hug from a loved one. These are based on external circumstances. This exceeding joy has nothing to do with what is tangible, but everything to do with the character of God. Yes, there were happy moments during the birth of Jesus, but exceeding joy had to do with this baby born to right the world.
For all the characters in the Christmas story, nothing outwardly changed at the time of Jesus’ birth. The shepherds returned to their ordinary lives, taking care of sheep. Despite Mary and Joseph having to deal with the rumors surrounding his birth, and even having to flee from their country for his safety, Jesus was still a normal baby. And the salvation that Simeon and Anna recognized in the temple did not come to everyone until after his death, burial, and resurrection. But the Bible doesn’t say joy “is coming”, but rather places joy in the present tense. Writer Jared C. Wilson says, “Happiness is dependent on our own circumstances. Joy is dependent on our Savior.” The shepherds, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna had joy because they knew they were a part of God fulfilling his promise. This joy, based on His word, affirmed his goodness and mercy.
Joy is mentioned throughout the Bible. Often, it is used in conjunction with tears, suffering, and the cross. These are not the words an ordinary person would associate with joy. But as a Christian, we can have joy in hard circumstances, not because we are manufacturing a cheerful disposition. Our neighbors will easily see through the facade. But if we allow joy to spring up from the comfort of knowing who God is, it will bubble over and make itself felt in everything we do. It will joyfully reveal the glory and majesty of that little baby born over 2,000 years ago.
Christmas and the end of Advent are just a few days away. I’ve been preparing my heart with hope, peace, love, and now, joy. Join with me on Christmas morning by listening to a version of “Joy to the World” accompanied by a full orchestra. Blast it and sing the lyrics wholeheartedly. I know of no other song that musically and lyrically embodies the true celebration of Christmas joy. And as the song is being played, I’m going to reflect on this past year, reminding myself of times that may have been hard, but how the goodness of God still prevailed. And like the song declares, I will “repeat the sounding joy”, offering gratitude to our good God.
Merry Christmas, dear readers! Thank you for journeying through Advent with me, this year. I pray you experienced the hope, peace, love, and joy of Christ, this season, and that they continue with you throughout the coming new year!