When I was little, my mother used to put electric candles in the windows at Christmastime. Because my bedroom was in the front of the house, she also placed candles in my windows. The contentment I felt going to sleep by the dim light of those candles is a vivid memory I will always cherish. Especially on Christmas Eve, when onto the deep contentment was added to almost unbearable anticipation. What would I find under our tree in the morning? How long would I have to wait at the top of the stairs before I was allowed to find out? As I reflect on those Christmas Eves, trying desperately to fall asleep in the soft glow of those electric candles, I realize that that combination of contentment and anticipation could be summed up in one word: Joy. 

Webster said joy “is a delight of the mind, from the consideration of the present or assured approaching possession of a good.” 

Consideration of the Present

The candles in my window elicited deep contentment. Webster defines contentment as “a resting or satisfaction of mind without disquiet; acquiescence.” On those peaceful Christmas Eve nights, nestled beneath my covers, I was truly without disquiet, acquiescing to the tranquility of the moment, without a care in the world.

Sadly, as we grow, the cares of this world persist in robbing us of contentment. A consideration of the present reveals pervasive sorrow. Tragedies near and far abide. We long for that “delight of mind” Webster describes, but it eludes us. My friend lost her daughter suddenly last year at this time. My nephew succumbed to addiction the year before that. A family we know just gave birth to a stillborn daughter. People in Ukraine and Afghanistan are experiencing great suffering. Our own culture seems to have lost its mind. Joy seems unattainable amid this swirl of sorrow and strife. The candles in my bedroom window are a sweet memory, but over time I have found myself acquiescing more and more to disquiet.

But then I remember that “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). It is a mystery and a wonder that being a follower of and believer in Jesus Christ begets a latent joy that persists despite what we experience temporally. This joy is not to be conflated with happiness. Happiness is ephemeral. Joy in Christ is eternal and is not dependent on present circumstances. The mystery is that this joy can exist alongside and within profound sorrow, despite trial, tragedy, and loss.

My friend who lost her daughter last year is one of the most joy-filled people I know, even as she weeps in her grief. Her love for Christ (and his love for her) brings her great joy, even in the midst of the unimaginable. In his almost unbearable sadness this past year and a half, my brother expresses a simultaneous overarching joy that sustains him in his loss. This is a mystery, but not one that comes without foretelling: 

  • “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11
  • “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17
  • “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11
  • “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5
  • “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Psalm 4:7
  • “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” 1 Peter 1:8

We look to the “founder and perfecter of our faith” as our example. This is Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). What is the “joy that was set before him?” The restoration and reconciliation of the Creation. The giving of eternal life to his chosen people. Fellowship with the Father, the Spirit, and those he created and loves. We are his joy. And he is ours.

Assured Approaching Possession of a Good

The more I see God working amidst this world’s horrors, the more I trust him. And the more I trust God, the more my joy increases. And not only increases. My joy in Christ is immutable. This joy in the midst of trial, trouble, and sorrow is sustained through the anticipation of promises yet to be fulfilled. This anticipation is fueled by assurances from God. His assurances are not fragile. They are solid, dependable, and certain promises of Jesus’ imminent return. And based on the myriad promises already fulfilled in the Bible, I have no reason to doubt the ones given for our future:

  • “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
  • “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Matthew 24:44
  • “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” 1 Corinthians 15:51-51
  • “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:1-3
  • “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

It is the anticipation of these promises that compels such abiding joy. I am promised irrevocable citizenship in a place where God “will wipe away every tear from (my) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

This Christmas, as you celebrate the birth of the Light of the World, may joy fill you as you anticipate the assured approach of the possession of the ultimate Good: eternal life in the light-filled Kingdom of God. 

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