Editor’s note: This month, we’re sending an abbreviated version of CTA’s newsletter. We encourage you to take a break from the busyness of the Christmas season and reflect upon the birth of our King. This devotion is slightly adapted from the Ministry Message that accompanies The Joy of Christmas, one of CTA’s Christmas themes.
When you were a child, what part of Christmas brought you the most joy? We may try to deny or at least downplay it, but as children, one of the best parts of Christmas was getting presents. Even if we knew that Christmas was about Jesus, opening presents was likely a highlight of the season.
Maybe you would sneak around the house, trying to find out where the presents were hidden. Maybe you gave that wrapped present a good shake on Christmas morning, trying to guess what was inside. Were you the child who tore into the wrapping paper or the one who carefully unwrapped your gift?
Somewhere along the way, it becomes more fun to give presents. Maybe it’s a sweet and special gift for a new boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe it’s the perfect gag gift for your brother. Maybe it’s something to spoil your parents. Maybe it’s the toy your child has been dreaming of but doesn’t think is coming.
That’s the thing about gifts - there’s joy in receiving and joy in giving.
Long ago, in a stable in Bethlehem, God gave his people the gift they’d been waiting for for thousands of years. It was the gift that had been prophesied about. It was the gift that had been hoped for. It was the gift that God promised Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When God gave us the gift of Jesus, there was indeed joy on Earth. That was the message of the angels. (Read Luke 2:10.)
The shepherds rejoiced. The Wise Men rejoiced. Mary and Joseph rejoiced. Simeon and Anna rejoiced. There was great joy. The joy didn’t stop there. As Jesus grew and began his ministry, he performed miracles, restoring joy to the lives of the crippled, the possessed, and the outcast.
After Jesus rose and ascended, the disciples spread the good news of the Gospel joy in their backyards and around the world. Millennia later, you and I have the same joy that the shepherds and the crippled and the disciples had.
But like a child who is excited about a toy on Christmas and bored with it by New Year’s, we do not always live in the joy that Christ gives. We grumble about how busy we are at this time of year. We gossip and talk negatively about relatives who are difficult to deal with. We covet things that are not ours. We overextend ourselves and our wallets so that our friends or neighbors won’t judge us. We try to make our own joy and chase after the joy that this world promises rather than drawing on the endless supply of heavenly joy in Jesus.
But joy is not just in the receiving; it’s also in the giving. (Read Hebrews 12:2.)
Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before him. That joy was you.
God gave up his only Son joyfully because it meant a restored relationship with his creation. It brought him joy to send his Son to a broken, fallen world. Jesus was joyfully Immanuel, God with us. He joyfully walked among his creation - healing, forgiving, and bringing joy to those he touched. He joyfully endured the horrors of the cross because he wanted you to have the eternal joy of being with God in glory forever.
God took great joy in you, his creation. It is not just we who received the grace of God in Jesus who are joyful. It is God himself, who loves you so much and joyfully sent Jesus to earth to bring the creation he joyfully made and called good, back to himself.
Your joy doesn’t come from you. It comes from God, who first delighted in you. The joy of Christmas is eternal because God is eternal. The joy of Christmas never dies because, in Christ, you have an eternal life. The joy of Christmas never fades away because every day we need God’s forgiveness and every day we rejoice that the forgiveness is ours and is real because of his Son.
Our joy is in God, who first loved us and rejoiced in our redemption. We don’t have to chase after the world’s joy, which fades away. We are joyful in our work - even when there is a lot of it - because that work is from God. We are joyful in our relationships, even when the other person is disagreeable and rude, because it was God’s pleasure to take our sinful attitudes and hurtful words to the cross. We are joyful in our financial situation, whatever it may be, because we know that if our heavenly Father did not even spare his own Son for our eternal good, he will certainly provide our earthly needs.
We have joy this Christmas season. We rejoice that we have received forgiveness and salvation from a God who joyfully gave up everything to be born a baby in a manger.
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