Do you have mixed feelings about Christmas?
It’s Christmastime and I feel somewhat ambivalent. Of course I’m eternally thankful that God sent His Son into the world. But it’s also gut-wrenching. After all, it’s not like Jesus came down to earth for a pleasant change of scenery. He left all that was most bright and beautiful to enter a broken world, darkened by sin – sin that would be the death of Him. As thankful as I am, it still pains me to know that my own sin played a part in it.
Still, I am joyful – and I hope you are too – but it’s a joy that is out of sync with all the trappings of “the most wonderful time of the year.” The glittering lights and presents and music don’t erase the pain and suffering that many experience at this, or frankly any, time of year. Everywhere we see evidence of why Jesus had to be born, why He had to die. And all around us so many people are hoping for happy holidays that don’t seem to be remotely connected to the birth of the Savior.
The difference between joy and happiness
Most people today confuse joy with what might be called happiness, that is, feelings of satisfaction and personal well-being based on favorable circumstances or fun occasions. But circumstances quickly change and occasions often disappoint. Joy is different.
The promise of joy glimmered in Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus, but it was Jerusalem where that promise burst forth and was secured for all eternity. I know when I mention Jerusalem, many hearts begin to beat faster and eyes light up at the name of that great city. I take great joy in thoughts of Jerusalem too, but as with the celebration of Jesus’ birth, my joy might be out of sync with other peoples’.
Jerusalem is undeniably beautiful and yet it has been, and still can be, a very dark place. When we planned our Behold Your God Jerusalem outreach,* we had to consider the high level of poverty, homelessness, and addiction there. Devoutly Orthodox women especially tend to be isolated, burdened, with many children to care for and little help or resources to make a difference. We are continuing to address these problems with practical care and the good news of Jesus, but frankly, it can feel like a drop in the bucket. Many of the most religious people there are still what Jesus referred to as “blind guides.” If you go, not just to tour the famous sites, but to really see the city and its people, you will understand why Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
Finding true joy
Yet, it’s possible to find true joy this month in Jerusalem and all over the world. Jesus showed us exactly how to find true joy and He remains our example:
“... looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
For the joy set before Him. What do you suppose that joy entailed? It had very little to do with His personal happiness on earth. Certainly, Jesus was looking past the shame of the cross to fully restored fellowship at the right hand of the Father. But that joy before Him also included the prospect of relationships He would enjoy with those who put their trust in Him. And I think He also had in mind the joy that His suffering would make possible for you and for me.
Jesus’ joy becomes ours when we trust in Him, and remains ours as we enjoy true fellowship with Him regardless of life’s circumstances. If you are seeking happiness but instead are finding hardship and disappointment, don’t focus merely on a change of circumstances. Ask God to help you look for joy, the same joy that Jesus found on the other side of suffering and pain–joy that came through caring more about what the Father wanted than avoiding the hardship of the cross.
Sharing true joy
Jesus instructed His disciples to rejoice, not in their circumstances, but in the fact that their names were written in heaven (see Luke 10:20). Do you know that your name is written in heaven? However challenging your current circumstances might be, you can rejoice – all of us can rejoice, together with the angels – over each and every sinner that repents. If you’ve been keeping up with our communications, you know it’s been a momentous year for Jews for Jesus in terms of outreach, and I still think the best is yet to come.
This month many followers of Jesus will enthusiastically sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.” Many don’t realize that song was not written about the birth of Jesus, but about His return. When you sing that carol will you be thinking about the little town of Bethlehem or about Jerusalem? There are only sixteen miles between those two cities, but for Jesus, that journey took a lifetime of endurance and suffering and death so that He could bring forth an eternity of joy and rejoicing.
We who have trusted Christ are still on that journey, navigating the in-between places where pain and suffering continue. But if we will only peer past the pain by faith, we too will see the joy set before us. Joy to the world comes ultimately when earth truly does receive her King, when He truly rules the world with truth and grace. Let that future reality be our foundation for true joy here and now. That will prevent us from having our gaze set on our current circumstances and will keep us from living our lives simply for our own satisfaction and personal happiness.
As we lift our eyes to the Author and Finisher of our faith, I am sure the angels will rejoice to see Him receive glory – and I think it will also give our heavenly Father great joy. Let’s help the party along by sharing our joy in Jesus with those who have yet to know Him. As you partner with us, may we share together the true and lasting joy of shining His light in any dark place on the planet – in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8).
* In case you missed our September quarterly, over 1,700 people gave their information asking for further contact and 63 Jewish people prayed with us to receive the Lord during our month-long Jerusalem outreach last May! We are fully engaged in follow-up and have established a continuing presence there.