What a year.
Disease and sickness and death. Political unrest. Racial tension. Violence in the streets. You can almost hear the exasperated, weary refrain, “Man, I’m so done with 2 BC.” As tough as 2020 has been, it is not alone in history as a time of darkness and hardship.
And we are not alone in going through it.
While scholars debate the exact date, Jesus’ birth took place in incredibly stressful, trying times. In spite of Christmas cards and songs to the contrary, it was not the picturesque, tranquil silent night of serene pastures and a quaint, shiplap cottage and petting zoo. This is a baby born in a smelly cattle stall to a teenage mom, during the forced census and taxation by an oppressive regime whose political enemies were murdered by the thousands. Life was tough at best, and at worst, brutal.
Enter Jesus. The birth announcement of the angel that night was powerful and hope-filled and shone in those dark times like a floodlight in a cavern. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
Great joy. Is it possible? Seriously, how could one baby, born one night, bring all that? If we could sum up the wonder of God coming as a baby to save and redeem the world He created, that word would simply be “Joy.” The joy of an intimate relationship with the Father. The light of His powerful, warm love. It is what He offers us today in Jesus.
Wait for it…
While 2020 seems like it will never end, for perspective, in Jesus’ day the people had been awaiting the Messiah promised some 700 years earlier in Isaiah 9. In that prophecy, Isaiah addressed many of the issues we have today.
Questions about government and politics - “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”
Confusion about what to do next - “He will be called Wonderful Counselor.”
Weakness in the face of disease - He is the “Mighty God.”
Racial tension - He is the “Everlasting Father” for all of His children.
Struggling with sadness or isolation or depression - He alone is the “Prince of Peace.”
The people were waiting for the answers. Waiting for the joy. And God delivered.
In fact, the power and promise of joy fill Scripture.
Before his birth when Mary, the mother of Jesus greeted her relative, Elizabeth, Elizabeth said “the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
At his birth, it took a whole choir of angels to proclaim the joy that had been delivered that night.
During his ministry, when Jesus sent his disciples out, “The seventy-two returned with joy…” Then “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.”
That is a joy Jesus wants us to have. A joy that is indestructible. Even the very night before his death he said to his disciples, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
It would be an understatement to say that Jesus knows what tough times are. As the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” Jesus went first. He was tested in every way.Hebrews 4 says “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”
Mentally – In the garden “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled..” and said “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
Spiritually – “He who knew no sin became sin.”
Financially – Penniless, his only possessions were divided before his eyes.
Physically – Suffering the greatest agony and pain imaginable on the cross
Relationally – Abandoned and alone, his own Father turned away from the sin of the world and His Son.
But Jesus did not just go to the cross, he went through the cross. He went through hardship and scorn and pain to return to the presence of His Father because “In His presence is fullness of joy,” Psalm 16:11
Hebrews 12 says “Fixing our eyes on Jesus…For the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
It is true we are going through difficult times. But we are not alone. We have Jesus and His joy. Isaiah says of our Savior in chapter 9:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
The joy of Jesus enables us to go through tough times, fixing our eyes on Him, not the troubles, not our weaknesses, but on the Savior who loves us and gives His joy to us. This Christmas let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, enjoy the presence of the Father and share that powerful promise of joy with a waiting world.
Ben Hanna serves as Director of the Church Health Initiative. For more information, visit texasbaptists.org/chi.