Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her king!
It’s a beautiful phrase that proclaims why we must rejoice this holiday season. Yet during the Christmas season, the biggest struggle for me — and possibly for many others– is the struggle for joy. It’s funny that joy would be something hard to maintain during this the “season of joy,” yet it is.
Personally, for me, the past year was characterized by a misapplication of the Doctrine of Sin. I was focusing almost completely on my own sin and failures, instead of allowing God’s grace to flow in my life. Through the great words of C.J. Mahaney, my parents, and God’s Word, I realized that I had been doing the easy part — identifying my sin, yet that was all I was doing. I was not doing the hard part — crushing my pride by accepting God’s free grace. This act of refusing God’s grace sapped joy from my life. But I am still grateful for the lesson I have learned through this season of my life — and am now joyfully enjoying God’s grace once again.
Which brings me back to Christmas — it is a time where we all seem to get caught up in the nation-wide Christmas grumpiness. What we need to do is to take just a few “keys” to joy, and apply them to our lives. Now, these keys are not original to me (as most things are not), but come from the great blog Girl Talk.
First, we must contemplate the incarnation.
I have found this key to be of the utmost importance, particularly this Christmas season. As I have thought upon the great wonder of the incarnation — the miracle of Christmas — and upon the great news that â€œwhen the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sonsâ€ (Galatians 4:6) it has sent shivers up my spine and has brought tears to my eyes.
This past Wednesday was especially sweet to me as I led worship, sharing a story of sacrifice, and just contemplating with fellow believers on the incarnation and on Christ’s death. I don’t usually cry – but the overwhelming power of the message that God had laid on my heart came with such a force. We must always keep this wonder in the forefront of our minds and hearts.
Two other ways to contemplate the incarnation, as pointed out by Nicole Whitacre, include reading chapter five, “God Inncarnate” from JI Packer’s Knowing God, a chapter that affected me deeply this past summer during a class I was taking on the book.
â€œThe Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanityâ€”hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of gloryâ€”because at the Fatherâ€™s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross,” says Packer, “It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.â€
The second way to contemplate the incarnation is through music, particularly the Sovereign Grace Christmas Album, Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man. The songs on this CD are absolutely wonderful — full of beautiful, theologically strong lyrics and perfect music for the whole year.
The second key is to practice the spiritual disciplines. A great way to do that is to get a hold of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian LIfe by Donald Whitney – a book I desperately need to pick up and read along with my daily Bible readings. I really like what Janelle Bradshaw said in her post on this second key:
“It can be a temptation to let a few things slide. You know the thoughts: “Things will settle down after the holidays. I’ll get back to it then.” Often times, the spiritual disciplines can be the first to go.
We usually don’t feel the immediate effect of skipping a few devotional times here and there. But, what happens if we don’t get our presents wrapped in time or the cookies made before the big meal? That would be a disaster! “
And which one of us has not experienced that very thing happen to us at least one year around Christmastime? I doubt one of us could say that we have been faithful each year during this busy time. But we must remember that “the precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart…they are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.” (Psalm 19:8,10)
The third key to Christmas joy is to serve and give to others.
It reminds me of my visit to the nursing home just a couple of weeks ago. I went with the junior high department of my church’s youth group to sing Christmas carols in the halls. As expected, we walked into a smelly, overly heated, dry, old building with what seemed to be smelly, cold, elderly people. And that’s how many of us saw it when we first walked in. Yet when we began to sing, I saw a building that was full of sad, lonely, joyless people who needed to hear those songs proclaiming the greatness of the incarnation.
In one hallway, we stopped to sing for one lady who began to direct us as we sang. I set my guitar down (since we sang a cappella), and turned to see a older black man sitting on his bed, reading a Christmas card that one of the kids had given him. His face was so sad — so lonely, as if he had no one in his life. The television in front of him was the only light in that room, except for a little light from the hallway. He struggled to read the card – and his face slowly melted. And then he began to sing along with us in a deep, quiet voice…
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king…”
I thought I saw a tear in his eye as he looked up at me. I smiled and wished him a “Merry Christmas!” A smile took over his face as he looked up at me. “Merry Christmas,” he said. His eyes quickly returned to that simple card we had made for him earlier that day.
It’s just another example of serving and giving to others — it truly brings you great joy as well. A quote I loved from J.I. Packer was quoted in the Girl Talk post. In the quote, he reminds us:
â€œThe Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor–spending and being spent–to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others—and not just their own friends–in whatever way there seems need.
â€œIf God in mercy revives us, one of the things he will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives. If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty became rich’ (2 Cor. 8:9).â€
The fourth key to joy is continued communion with God. This is essentially staying and praying to God throughout the day. Not just part of the day. The cross need to be at the forefront of our minds all the time, not just the morning or evening, or Sunday or Wedndesday. We must constantly rely on God for our joy – especially when we serve others. In these things, we cannot do them alone. Meditate on God’s Word all day.
The final key to joy is to â€œturn every gift into an opportunity to glorify and adore God.â€
â€œPleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibilityâ€¦.I have triedâ€¦to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I donâ€™t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something differentâ€¦Gratitude exclaims, very properly, â€˜How good of God to give me this.â€™ Adoration says, â€˜What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!â€™ Oneâ€™s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sunâ€¦.If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour.â€ (C.S. Lewis as quoted in, When I Donâ€™t Desire God, by John Piper)
I pray you will have a joyful year full of the wonder and mystery of God become man – and I pray that you will not stop simply at God becoming man, but what he did as a man on this earth. And that will bring you great joy.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her king!