READ: Luke 1:13-16, 39-43, 57, 80, John 3:25-30 (click on verses to read)
In 1623 a young woman in France gave birth to one of the greatest mathematical minds in history. From early on he demonstrated amazing genius; discovering at the age of 12 that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles – a fact now taught in every basic geometry class. As an adult, Blaise Paschal devoted himself to mathematical experiments, traveling about to lecture on his findings. Then one night something happened that changed everything.
He was driving a coach home when the lead horses took fright and fled wildly across a bridge, railing into the dark waters below. Had the reins not snapped, Paschal would have plunged to his death, a reality that deeply affected him. Later that night as he pondered his near-death experience, the presence of God descended in a dramatic way. He wrote of it on a piece of parchment and secured it in an amulet that he kept next to his heart. Giving up mathematical pursuits, he went on to devote himself completely to the study of Christ. Upon his death they found the amulet around his neck, with the paper he’d written that night. It contained these words: . . . O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee, But I have known Thee. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. . .
Joy is the birthright for all of us who follow Jesus, for it flows from the heart of God and resonates on page after page of Scripture. The Christmas story is peppered with whispers of joy. One of the lesser known ones is found in the story of Jesus' forerunner and cousin, John the Baptist. Though we often see John as some kind of odd prophet, eating locusts and wild honey in the wilderness, the truth is that his life made him a courier of joy from the very start. First, the angel Gabriel promised John's father Zechariah that his birth would bring him great delight. Then the infant John leapt for joy in his mother's womb when Mary came to visit. And the entire village celebrated John's entrance into the world with one big party.
As a young man, John's joy was wrapped up in wonder at being chosen to announce the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. We see this in a conversation he had with his disciples one day when they were worried that he was losing his standing to a newcomer named Jesus of Nazareth. Though he’d told them many times that he was only there to prepare the way, they lost sight of that as the crowds thinned around them and people flocked to hear Jesus.
John patiently explained to his disciples that he was like a best man in a wedding, waiting with everyone else for the bridegroom to arrive. Once he heard the bridegroom’s voice, he realized that the wedding was imminent and he was filled with joy. John's happiness flourished as he saw his ministry fading into the background, even as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world gained in popularity. This, even though Jesus’ appearance on the scene was the beginning of a terrible end for John; one that he may very well have anticipated even while speaking of his own fullness of joy.
So with every Christmas carol we sing in the coming days, let us remember that we are made for joy, that no matter how busy the season, or how long our to-do list, our birthright is to experience gladness of heart. As we practice joy, we too prepare the way for Christ this Christmas--in our hearts and lives and families and workplaces and neighborhoods. As we listen carefully for the Bridegroom’s voice and open our hearts to the wonder of His coming, we are blessed to be His couriers of joy.
Though joy is our birthright as children of God, we can easily forget in the busyness of the season. Pause for a few minutes and just sit with the joy of having been chosen by Christ to know Him and walk with Him and celebrate His goodness. See everything about this season--from the shopping to the partying to the gifting and receiving--as an invitation to joy. How will you respond?
John the Baptist rejoiced to hear the Bridegroom’s voice. Ask Jesus to speak to your heart today by giving you a revelation of who He is and His presence with you, as you read the following verses. Spend some time worshipping by rejoicing in Him.
1 Chronicles 16:32-34
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Author of 7 books and a professor for Fuller Theological Seminary, Tricia specializes in helping others experience God’s presence through practicing soul-care.