Before this Christmas season is over, if not already, most of us will hear and even join in singing Isaac Watts’ hymn “Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come.”
Centuries before the hymn was composed, an angel appeared to a group of unnamed shepherds and sounded to them the note of Christmas joy: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11).
At this news, the shepherds began to say to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass” (Luke 2:15).
Having seen the infant Christ for themselves, the shepherds returned to their flocks, “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (Luke 2:20).
Praise to God
Indeed, for the people of God, Christmas at its best is a time for great joy and praise to God. It was for Mary, the mother of our Lord.
Upon being told that she would bear a son and subsequently visiting her kinswoman Elizabeth, Mary heard Elizabeth declare, “Indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:44).
In response, Mary declared, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47). The birth of Jesus was surrounded by joy: that of Mary, Elizabeth and the shepherds.
At some point following the birth of Jesus, wise men traveled from the east, being led by a star to the place where Mary and Joseph attended the young child.
Upon seeing the star that would lead them to the Christ child, Matthew 2:10 describes their reaction: “They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”
‘Full of glory’
Even though we are not numbered among those who witnessed firsthand the birth of Jesus, 1 Peter 1:8 is still appropriate for us when it says of Christ, “Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
Without being too rigid in the distinction, we might think of rejoicing in the active sense as something we choose to do, while joy in the passive sense is a residual emotion we feel.
May all of us find fresh strength in this Christmas season. Nehemiah 8:10 reminds us “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”