“Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people!” (Luke 2:10).
This is the bold proclamation heralded by the angels at our Lord’s birth. Not only is Christ’s birth good news (literally, gospel), but it is great joy for all the people. Though only a few shepherds near Bethlehem heard these wonderful words, their witness has indeed reached the ends of the earth and it has brought great joy to many people, myself included.
In the depths of a spiritual conversation with a dear friend of mine, I was asked: “Are church-goers actually joyful? Does Jesus really bring people joy in their lives?”
“Of course!” I fired back. Joy is one of the chief ingredients for a proper Christian life. Just think:
- “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
- “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
- “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4).
So what is going on here? Why do some unchurched folks say that we aren’t joyful? And, admittedly, why are some Christians not joyful?
The crux of the answer is about spiritual depth, or Christian maturity. Immature Christians (and many skeptics) see the church and Christianity simply as a way of, at best, getting people motivated in the right direction or, at worst, manipulating people to follow specific moral/ethical guidelines. But this is a self-centered version of Christianity – it is not good news of great joy.
I believe that we truly learn how to be joyful in the Lord only when we first understand that Christianity is not about us. It’s about the Lord of all creation, the Most High. Only when we get over ourselves and fix our minds on God’s enduring loving-kindness can we sincerely and authentically be joyful in the Lord’s joy (if you think Easter was a dour event, read the story again).
Maybe that is the good news of great joy. It’s not all about us. Regardless of our failings, shortcomings, and errors, true joy is a gift from the Lord. It’s not something we have to conjure up. True joy is what the shepherds found in a manger in Bethlehem.