One of my favorite Christmas hymns is "Joy To The World," sung in just about every church I've served after lighting candles during Christmas Eve candlelight services.
The inspiration from which this hymn is drawn comes from the Gospel of Luke chapter 2 when the angel speaks to the shepherds:
"Do not be afraid; I bring you good tidings of exceedingly great joy, which will be for all the people..."
I note a few things from that verse that have always intrigued me. The first thing is that the angel's news purports to bring joy that can only be described as "exceedingly great."
In angel-speak, that's a lot of joy, like a lot. Exceedingly great joy is the kind of joy that can't be contained. It's the joy that fills your whole being and leaves you tingly. It's the kind of joy that supersedes whatever you might be experiencing, even if what you're feeling is joy.
Second, this "exceedingly great joy" is for "all the people."
Now, this is important. You see, the text doesn't say "some of the people," "a select few of the people," or even "a group of chosen people." It says "all the people."
In other words, the message of joy the angel brings is for everyone, no matter who they are. These are good tidings, indeed. This is the kind of joy that the world needs right now, and us along with it.
The problem is, most of us have a hard time embracing joy.
Pure joy is the kind of feeling that we don't often feel, to be honest. Most of what we call "joy" is full of qualifiers and has more than a few strings attached to other emotions.
Even when we feel joy breaking through our barriers, most of us are afraid to trust that what we are feeling is real. We might even refuse to let joy in because we are too busy waiting for "the other shoe to drop," as the old saying goes.
We're also afraid we might never feel it again.
The poet Richard Wilbur once penned a poem entitled "Hamlen Brook" which contained this fantastic line:
Joy’s trick is to supply
Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
Nothing can satisfy.
The angel's message from so long ago was that God's desire is that we experience the joy that comes from being free from fear, bitterness, anxiety, dread, and all of the negative feelings that lead us to despair.
And once you let yourself feel that joy, there is no substitute for it. You won't want to settle for something less than joy. Further, it's not something you will only feel once and then never again. The kind of joy the angel spoke of can be yours whenever you wish.
The joy of the Christmas story is our story. The message of redemption and rescue is meant for all of us. We only need to let ourselves feel it without reservation, becoming vulnerable, open, and willing to receive the love behind it with wild abandon.
May you feel joy today and every day from this day---even when you struggle to feel it, may you know it is there for the taking. May this joy permeate your life and the lives of all of us.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.
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