“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” so the popular Christmas song goes, often carried by jubilant crooning and loud bands. What makes it so wonderful? Oh, there’s the jingle-belling and mistletoeing and party hosting and marshmallow toasting. Friends will visit. Loved ones will be near. And friends will be telling you to be of good cheer.
So of course it’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Or maybe it’s a bit of cruel irony. Because many people find the Christmas season—lauded as the pinnacle of warm and fuzzy feelings—to be the toughest time of the year.
For some, it’s tough because of the stress that comes with meeting the hectic demands of holiday gift shopping. For others, it’s the financial strain. For others, it’s the obligatory and awkward family gatherings. Or a combination of all these.
And for still others, Christmas is a tough time of the year because it tends to highlight feelings of loneliness and estrangement, especially when it comes after the death of a loved one. Or a divorce. Or the heartache of a wayward child.
With these painful circumstances in the foreground, the background music continues to feature lyrics that are about as lame as their ability to give joy: “It’s the hap- happiest season of all.”
Despite their shallowness, these secular Christmas songs reflect an important truth: the historical events behind our Christmas celebration were marked by great joy. Consider how often joy appears in the Scripture narratives about the birth of Christ.
- While still in his mother’s womb, John the Baptist “leaped for joy” when Mary, who was carrying Jesus in her womb, greeted the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:44).
- Mary expresses joy after she was told that she would bear the Christ-child: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46).
- The angel told the shepherds: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
- The wise men, “when they saw the star” that would lead them to the young Christ, “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 1:24).
- And Isaiah, who prophesied Christ’s birth, foretold that it would be the cause of joy for God’s people: “You have increased [the nation’s] joy; they rejoice before you as with the joy at the harvest as they are glad when they divide the spoil” (Isaiah 9:3).
So even though these jubilant secular Christmas songs point to peripheral (or completely wrong) reasons for joy, Scripture agrees with their joyous sentiment, albeit for an infinitely better reason. For the historical events behind our Christmas celebration do give joy: God, in the person of Jesus Christ, has come to dwell with humans. He is Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23).
Jesus removes the biggest obstacle to our joy: our estrangement from God. As sinners, we are in an impossible predicament: on the one hand, we need to be in the presence of God, who is the only source of our life and joy. On the other hand, if we as sinners found ourselves in God’s holy presence, we would be completely ruined. So Christ, the perfect God-man, solves this predicament. As the perfect man, he pleases God completely (John 8:29). And as God, he has the authority to forgive human sins (Mark 2:7).
Does this mean Christmas is the most wonderful, joyful time of the year? No, it’s better than that. Christ’s coming as a baby actually provides the very foundation for joy—not just when we celebrate Christmas, but year-round.
At a time of year when we may be blasted by temptations to be discontent, bitter, covetous, or depressed, consider the joy to be found in these truths about God’s presence with us.
- Because God is with us, we can be content with what we have. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
- Because God is with us, we can find gladness, even in the most tumultuous circumstances. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved” (Psalm 46:4-5).
- Because God is with us, we can have peace. “May the God of peace be with you all” (Romans 15:33).
Emmanuel—God with us—is the true giver of joy. “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).