Because when angels draw near, as they do, the earth begins to shake beneath our feet as it began to shake beneath Mary’s feet, which was why she was great­ly trou­bled. Instead of every­thing stand­ing still and sure, sud­den­ly noth­ing is stand­ing still, and every­thing is unsure. Some­thing new and shat­ter­ing is break­ing through into some­thing old. Some­thing is try­ing to be born. And if the new thing is going to be born, then the old thing is going to have to give way, and there is agony in the process as well as joy, just as there is agony in the womb as it labors and con­tracts to bring forth the new life…”

- Fred­erich Buech­n­er, The Mag­nif­i­cent Defeat

Christ­mas for some stirs up as much sad­ness as glad­ness. This is espe­cial­ly true for those who have lost some­one close, those who are expe­ri­enc­ing lone­li­ness, those for whom hope seems dis­tant. Per­haps that is you. If so, know you are in good com­pa­ny. Mod­ern nativ­i­ty scenes can immu­nize us to the grit and grime of that holy morn­ing. Don’t for­get that the saints and Sav­ior of the first Christ­mas were hard pressed from every side. Uncer­tain­ty abound­ed. Mary groaned. Joseph winced. Jesus wept. 

That morn­ing in the cold­ness of a cave, in the black­ness of a womb, the omnipresent God trav­eled some­where new. God whose word spoke the world into exis­tence became the Word that was spo­ken. The One who beholds our unformed sub­stance” emp­tied him­self and became the unformed sub­stance. The Spir­it of God who once brood­ed over the deep now brood­ed in a body. Cre­ation was turned on its head. 

Do you know what this means? 

Up until now we trem­bled before God-the-Pow­er­ful and prayed to God-the-Invis­i­ble. But in the Incar­na­tion God-the-Infi­nite becomes God-the-Infant, God-the-Hal­lowed becomes God-the-Held. In Jesus, the Son of Man, God becomes our Broth­er and Friend. 

When the author of Hebrews says we do not have a high priest who is unable to sym­pa­thize with our weak­ness­es” (Hebrews 4:15), it’s more than mere rhetoric. Jesus is inti­mate­ly acquaint­ed with our lim­i­ta­tions. Jesus tastes our temp­ta­tions. Jesus feels our pain. He knows how hard it can be to do life in an unres­ur­rect­ed body. 

Paul speaks of shar­ing in the fel­low­ship of Jesus’s suf­fer­ing (Philip­pi­ans 3:10). Jesus also fel­low­ships with our suf­fer­ing. He does not observe our pain from afar or offer everything’s gonna turn out all right” plat­i­tudes. The Com­forter holds our hands and sheds our tears. 

Per­haps now is a good time to pause and light a can­dle of hope. This suf­fer­ing — his and ours — is going some­where. If God could trans­port us to the place he wants to take us and make us the peo­ple he wants to make us with­out the tri­als of life, he would. Love requires it. He can­not, so he does not. 

God, this pain is too much! Why not bring us home?” Isn’t that the ques­tion we ask when life crush­es our hearts? We can throw up our arms and say, Only God knows.” But that answer will not sus­tain us in a dark hour. No answer sat­is­fies com­plete­ly. But there are hints of answers. And the biggest hint is that three-let­ter word that embod­ies Christ­mas­time. The one scat­tered every­where on wreaths and wrap­ping paper, whose pow­er has dulled through overuse. 

Joy.

In John 15, Jesus tells his dis­ci­ples to make their home in him, to love one anoth­er as he has loved them. The chap­ter is rich with the kind of wis­dom only the Mas­ter can serve up. And what is the grand finale of all this abid­ing and lov­ing? What is the fruit he desires us to bring forth? What is the answer to our mid­night groans of Why, God, why?” It is That my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be com­plete” (John 15:11).

Reread that last sen­tence slow­ly. Don’t miss it. Shake off the blind­ers of famil­iar­i­ty. The impor­tance of those words can’t be over exaggerated. 

What is this Joy? khar-ah’: Cheer­ful­ness, calm delight. The Jesus Sto­ry­book Bible calls it For­ev­er Happiness. 

How could Jesus endure the hor­ror of the cross? For the sake of the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). He knew that he was rip­ping open new worlds of joy. Strength for suf­fer­ing came from med­i­tat­ing on the For­ev­er Hap­pi­ness to come. Not pie-in-the-sky pearly gate hap­pi­ness, but the deep joy of a redeemed cre­ation and peo­ple who would co-cre­ate and reign for­ev­er with him. 

You see, God is the most joy­ous being in the uni­verse. He’s also the most giv­ing, which means he wants to share what he has with us. God has gal­lons of joy to pour into us. The prob­lem is that we all begin life as small as a shot glass. So we have to be heat­ed up and remade. That’s what tri­als are for. Yield­ing to God in the midst of our hard times makes us pli­able and God expands us. Our capac­i­ty for joy increas­es, both now and forever. 

I close with a sto­ry that brings this stark­ly into the real world. My wife was in the hos­pi­tal a few years ago. The psy­chi­atric ward, to be exact. After a per­fect storm of life events, she spi­raled and crashed. We both expe­ri­enced a kind of dark­ness we scarce­ly knew exist­ed. For months, she sank into a deep depres­sion and could not care for our chil­dren. It was hell. I did not know if life would ever be nor­mal again. But nine months after the hos­pi­tal God did a mir­a­cle in her heart and mind, dis­pelling her depres­sion and restor­ing her hope. That was many years ago, and while there are nat­ur­al ups and downs, we are today the best ver­sions of our­selves we have ever been. At first, it was unclear why we went through all we did. Some ques­tions remain unan­swered, but we can now tru­ly say we are thank­ful for all that tran­spired. In the val­ley of the shad­ow of death mus­cles devel­oped that help us explore the moun­tains of life. Did I men­tion my wife’s name is Joy? 

So this Christ­mas­time as you see the word joy” plas­tered across yards and stores may it serve as a reminder of Jesus’s words to his friends just hours before his death: 

Abide in Me…that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

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