But the angel said to them, “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 Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
We are in the season of Advent, and Christmas is nearly here! When I was a child, this season was full of excitement, anticipation, and joy. The excitement came because school would be out of session for the rest of the year. The anticipation, because I just knew I was getting every present on my list. And at that time, I attributed joy to the overall infectious nature of the season—everyone seemed full of joy. As I reflect upon these early years, I see that it was easy for me to be joyful. I had no responsibilities and no real experience with hardships and misfortunes. As a result, adopting an attitude of joy was not a struggle.
Natural disasters, violent outbreaks across the globe, cycles of poverty, persistent oppression, societal schisms, pervasive wickedness. It would be great if we only experienced sunshine and happiness, where all things are equal. However, life is mixed with pleasure, pain, triumph, tragedy, and injustices. We are reminded daily that we live in a broken world—the devastating results of Adam and Eve’s transgression in the garden. As I got older, I became acquainted with misfortune, loss, and hurt. I began to realize that tragedy could befall anyone at any time, even during the Christmas season. I also began to realize that the more I experienced life, the harder it became to embrace joy. But perhaps this was because I misunderstood joy in its proper context.
In Luke’s account of the birth of Christ, the angel of the Lord heralds that he was bringing good news that would “cause great joy for all the people” (2:10). This news came to the world in a time of great oppression. For the broader world, the importance of our Savior’s gift would only be realized after Christ’s death through the ministry of the apostles. But for the Israelites, this was news of victory amidst one of the darkest points of their existence. We should remember that, in this original Advent season, Israel was grappling with the realities of an empire’s oppression. They were actively looking for a Savior to help them overthrow their oppressors and exact the injustices they had received at the hands of the Roman empire. Prior to the angel’s announcement, the prophets had encouraged Israel to embrace joy in anticipation of the Savior’s arrival. In its proper context, joy is to be embraced amidst tragedy. So often we have made joy a conditional attitude that is predicated on things being right, fair, and just. However, true joy is deeply rooted in hope—hope in Christ. We are joyful because we are confident in the fact that God still sits on the throne and that his hand is at work despite the pains we endure in this present age.
Joy is not so much meant for the good times as it is for the tumultuous times. This genuine joy does not deny the existence of pain, heartache, and loss, but it also acknowledges the strength of our God to heal, mend, and restore. Joy must be engaged and actively adopted. The season of Advent is about the arrival of the Savior and the joy he brings to the nations in the midst of our darkest hours. I earnestly implore you to embrace joy, and let it be rooted in Christ’s capability instead of your present reality.
God, I pray for every person who is experiencing loss and heartache during this season of Advent. Pain is difficult to process, and joy can sometimes be hard to find. Let your grace cover every heart and mind affected by tragedy. Let the calm of your Spirit lead them from brokenness to the place of your love, peace, and restoration. In the darkest areas of their lives, let them experience your genuine joy that would cause them to believe again, hope again, trust you again, and live again. May this Advent season be a season of rejuvenation for your people. In Christ’s name, Amen.