Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy. When Jesus was born, an angel appeared to shepherds and said, “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 Saviour has been born to you”. Amidst all the things in this life that give us joy, this news above all else, gives us lasting joy.
Our relationship with joy in complicated. We’ve all experienced joy. We know what it feels like. But our experience of joy is illusive. We sometimes grasp it, only to have it quickly slip through our fingers.
C.S. Lewis speaks of the illusive nature of joy. He says the first time he read an Icelandic saga, he experienced great joy (evidently, we don’t all find joy in the same places!). When he felt that joy, he said to himself, “I loved that. I want to do that again. I want that feeling back”. So what did he do? He read every Icelandic saga that he could. He binged on them. He even learnt to read old Norse. But he found it hard to recapture that joy. It didn’t last.
We know that’s the same with so many things in life. The holiday ends. That great restaurant you discovered closes down. You discover flaws in the new boyfriend or girlfriend. That job that you always wanted has a demanding boss, and long hours, and you feel unappreciated. In other words, the joy fades away.
Why does this happen? Partly, it’s dependent on circumstances being just right to produce that repeated joy, and often those circumstances don’t repeat themselves in the same way. We can’t control them that way. And partly it’s because of the tolerance effect. Like a junkie who’s addicted to a particular drug and needs an increasingly stronger dose to get the same effect, so it is with us. We experience something joyful, but the same holiday destination or the same party with friends repeated endlessly won’t bring the same joy. We get used to it. That’s the tolerance effect.
But the joy that was announced at that first Christmas, this Christian joy that’s spoken about so often in the Bible, isn’t momentary. Nor is it dependent on getting the right circumstances. It’s something that is limitless, and eternal, and cannot be taken away. Because this joy is about receiving the relationship that our hearts were built for. It’s about our deepest need being met. Jesus has come to save from our sins and brokenness, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He has come to give forgiveness, peace, and a lasting hope.
Despite all the busyness and distractions of this season, Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, as we remind ourselves of this old story. Everlasting joy is offered to us. We repeat that famous carol, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room.”
On behalf of the Council and staff of St Andrew’s, Megan and I want to wish you a joyful and merry Christmas.