Joy to the World…But what IS this Joy?
What does Christmas joy look like? And if so, how do we obtain it?
This month, I’ve noticed that a lot of my Christmas reflections have sought to explore the emotional and spiritual dissonance that the soul can fall prey to during Christmastide. Personally, I do believe that nostalgia is not all evil, and that the warmth it provides is a phenomena that God has wired us to experience. But, when we contemplate Christmas JOY, do we mean the same thing as having a “holly, jolly Christmas?” What harmony has the proclamation “Joy to the World” with “cups of good cheer” and “good tidings for your kin?”
In reality… none. In fact, the years following the “First Christmas”- and if we take a broader view, many years in the lives of God’s people- didn’t bring much blissful jolly laughter. In fact, for the mothers of Israel, there is a much deeper pacifier needed for the pain wrought upon their families.
In Jeremiah 31:15, the prophet shares a gripping message from the Lord describing the pain, the bloodshed, and the loss that Judah was experiencing during the time of this message. The Southern Kingdom was crumbling under sack of the Babylonian army. The men of Judah’s armies have been smacked. Judah’s towns are flattened, and Jerusalem herself has final succumbed to the choking grip of unrelenting siege. In the midst of this carnage, the Lord says:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” (Jer 31:15)
Ramah was a town about six miles from Jerusalem, about the same distance North as Bethlehem was South. Tradition taught that it was along the road connecting these three cities that Rachel was buried. The Mother of the Son’s of Israel, whose love also knew lost as she lost her life in childbirth, weeps as she sees her sons either killed, or lead of to captivity as they are dragged on this road to exile.
Yet, practically the entire rest of Jeremiah 31 is not about the despair- it is about the promise of restoration. It is about the feasting and rejoicing and gladness that, in completely contrast to Israel’s current condition, will be her future when she returns from exile. “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of their enemy. The LORD will deliver them. He will satisfy their weary souls. And, promises the LORD, he will make with His people a New Covenant (Jer 31:33-34).
In the same fashion, the “First Christmas” had mothers mourning as well. Matthew describes the drama that dawned upon the City of David through the evil and malicious scheme of Herod the Great. This wealthy, yet also self-infatuated ruler of much of Judea had recently been approached by some mysterious Magi from the East beyond the wilderness, asking him if he knew of the birth of a new king. After attempting to use these astronomers to help lure him to this toddler, that he might eliminate any cosmic opponent to his throne, he learns that the magi do not return and tell him of the child’s location. In a rage, he “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.”
Interestingly, right after this massacre, Matthew quotes Jeremiah and the weeping of Rachel, and writes “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled” (2:18). What does Matthew mean? Using Midrashstic typology, Matthew is saying this- that just as God promised deliverance, restoration, and new life for exiled Judah, so despite the Bethlehem massacre, God will provide these realities to His people. Remember the context of all of Jer 31. And the good news for Matthew’s mothers- they will in their own lifetime see and hear the very body of the Anointed One God would send to accomplish Jeremiah’s promise.
So, what is Christmas joy? It isn’t milk and cookies. It isn’t chestnuts on a roasting fire. It isn’t trying to hide and forget the gruesomeness and ugliness of life in a Sin-shattered world with nostalgia-induced myopia. Christmas joy actually sits in the pain of this world: hunger, suicide, addiction, genocide, racism, divorce, gang violence, and much more.
But while recognizing this, Christmas Joy overcomes these realities, because it knows the very ONE who came down “with us” to restore, to redeem, and to reconstitute us as His people. And Christmas Joy thinks deeply of the promises of feasting, of rejoicing, of rest, and of New Covenant and New Fellowship with our God, and gives us indescribable hope. For the Messiah of the First Christmas brought us these realities. And this is the true gift of Christmastide- that we can taste these very blessings today, and have the guarantee that we will someday see only these realities. THIS is JOY to the WORLD.
“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.”
 So as not to distract from the focus of the article, I’ll confess here again, I do not think it is wise or accurate to villainze nostalgia. This phenomenon creates interesting pleasures within the human psyche that I can’t but help believe that God has designed and wired within us. But woeful be the health of our souls the day we confuse nostalgia for Gospel joy.
 It is theologically and poetically accurate to say such as Rachel was Jacob’s beloved wife (even though history won’t let us forget God’s use of Leah and both wives servants in completing the birthing of the Twelve).