Sleeping Baby
Pause for Thought

News of Great Joy

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I write these lines only ten days before Christmas. The news is full of political strife, devastating weather phenomena, yet another pandemic extending variant, topped off by a drastic drop in giving to The Salvation Army’s Christmas outreach programs.

I mentioned in a previous note that my neighbor has an illuminated sign on his lawn proclaiming “JOY” in letters six feet tall!

The Jazz channel which is my default radio station in the car is playing “Joy to world”, although I often wonder what George Handel and Isaac Watts would think about some of the treatments their praise song is subjected to. Google classifies the song as “Pop, Holiday” and I don’t think I can disagree if “Pop” means “Popular” and “Holiday” means “for a holy day”.

But inevitably cognitive dissonance sets in. The world is demonstrably NOT filled with joy, neither is there peace on earth. Goodwill toward mankind is definitely in short supply everywhere I look. Apparently we are not experiencing the fulfillment of the message of the angels.

And, unsurprisingly, not everyone is delighted with Christmas.

In fact, many people dread being subjected to expressions of well being to which they cannot relate. For some it is a time of great sadness as they contemplate the loss of who or what was dear, or the challenge of an empty future.

In 1863 during the American Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem titled “Christmas Bells” which has become the carol “I heard the bells on Christmas Day”.

Longfellow notes with sadness:

And in despair I bowed my head; "There is no peace on earth," I said; "For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Why then do we Christians continue to insist that Christmas is the second most important day — Easter is indisputably the first!— in the history of the world?

What has become of promised joy?

As usual, Jesus is way ahead of us. Listen to his words to his followers just before he ascended to resume his rightful place as ruler of the universe as recorded in John 16:33,

…in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ” [NIV]

Note that Jesus didn’t come to impose peace upon the world. He came so that those who follow him would have peace in him!

So the message of the angels seems to mean that they are announcing today that joy is now available to all mankind.

Glad Tidings! Great Joy! Come and get it!

This could rightly be claimed as the first Christmas Commercial! Joy and Peace were certainly lacking before the birth of the Christ child.

Jesus harbored no illusions that the world to which he came would embrace his coming. In fact he said that his followers would be hated by the world in the same way as it hated him. For me that would most definitely be a major downer and a source of depression were it not for the promise Jesus makes in John 16:22,

…Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy

Or as the Apostle Peter puts it in 1 Peter 1:8,

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” [NIV].

I admit that I am very partial to the King James translation of these words as …joy, unspeakable, and full of glory!

And so, even through sadness and turmoil, grief and despair, depression and hardship, we continue to hold fast to the promise of the angels on that first Christmas. We are assured that we are engaged on fulfilling a long-term plan by the creator of our universe to bring mankind into fellowship with Him. Longfellow also recognized this in the last stanza of his poem:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men."

This world needs not just a dose of joy, but a relationship with the one who is the source of joy, and can make that joy complete.

I trust and pray that you are experiencing that unspeakable joy, and if not, may I add my endorsement and recommendation, and point you at its source? Regardless of your circumstances I am convinced you will not be disappointed. Tidings of comfort and joy, indeed!

Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black

Sunday December 12th, 2021