But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
The angels were excited to announce it. The Promised One had arrived, a Savior for all people, Christ the Lord. And what was the promised effect of this Good News? Great joy.
This is so incredibly relevant to everyone. You were created for joy. God hard-wired you for it from the beginning. The ancient Psalmist had tapped into this glorious reality when he penned,
In the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy; at His right hand are pleasures forever. (Ps 16:11)
The fullest possible joy is found in God’s immediate presence. And this is what was happening when Jesus appeared the first time on earth. God’s presence came to us when we could not and would not draw near to Him!
In His goodness and generosity, God has filled even this fallen world with a thousand lesser joys. The joy of human love, of romance, of having children, of victories over injustice, of personal accomplishments, of medical breakthroughs…and on and on. But these are always fleeting joys. Because they relate to things that are destined to perish. And in the perishing there is almost always sorrow.
But the joy that Jesus brings does not perish. It knows no end in quantity or quality.
Years ago I was deeply entrenched in finding happiness only in the “lesser” gifts. I was actually avoiding God’s presence and running from the claims of Jesus. Why did I run? Because I believed I would be happier living my own way. I was convinced that living independently (and defiantly) of God would result in a life of greater pleasure and happiness. Like most people I simply removed God from the picture of my life. But as time passed I begin to feel the emptiness. My joys were shallow, fleeting, even disappointing.
Then God began drawing me back to Himself. As I began to respond to Him I had to get honest about my life. I was a good person by the world’s standards. But by biblical measures I was deeply compromised. I knew there were sinful issues in my life. It was in struggling through into the light in these areas that I learned a great lesson.
By holding onto sin I was forfeiting greater joy.
At one particular point in my journey God was dealing with me about my deep tendency to “spin the truth” to make myself look good in the eyes of other people. God has another name for this: lying. Why was that so hard to admit? It was hard to admit it to myself and even harder to confess it to others. During this season the Holy Spirit convicted me of lying to a man. I knew the Lord wanted me to go to the man and confess that I had lied to him. I felt miserable. I wanted the sense of guilt to go away. But God wanted me to trust Him and obey. So finally I called the man and kind of confessed. Actually I just spun the truth again – just a little less severe this time. As I hung up the phone I felt sick! I had called to confess a lie and had told another lie in the process!
Why was I so in bondage to fearing what this man would think? Because I had for most of my life believed that it was critical to my own joy to have others think highly of me. So I lived to impress people. If they were impressed then I had a sense of accomplishment, of pleasure. I felt like a winner. But it was always a temporary euphoria. So it is with every joy that is not coming from Jesus.
The Holy Spirit pressured me until I surrendered and called the man back again. Even while dialing the phone my mind was giving me fits! Thoughts were flooding my mind like, “If you just straight out tell him you lied he’ll think you are an idiot. He’ll lose any confidence he has in you and think you are a big hypocrite.” I had to fight against my own thoughts until the man answered the phone. At that point I made myself confess the sin in humility and truth: “I feel very embarrassed to be calling you again. But the truth is that God has been dealing with my heart about how wrong it is to place other’s opinions above God’s opinion. God has been dealing with me about misrepresenting the truth to you a while back. I feel so bad about this, but I have lied to you on two occasions now. I believe it is sin. I believe God has forgiven me but I am calling to confess this to you and to ask you to forgive me as well.”
The gentlemen was gracious and immediately expressed his forgiveness. After a minute of small talk we hung up. But I had not calculated what would happen next.
No sooner had I hung up the phone that I was immediately overcome by a sense of God’s manifest presence. My soul was so filled up with a sense of joy that I began to weep. It was like liquid love flooding my mind and feelings. I found my heart and lips rising in praise to God: “Oh God, is this what I have been fighting against? I have been avoiding this joy? What a fool I have been. Thank you Lord for enduring my pride and unbelief and for bringing me into this great joy.” That was an incredible day. It was a great lesson. I have had many similar experiences through the years.
We were wired for joy. Sin is an enemy to this joy, but incredibly deceptive. Paul referred to sin as “the lusts of deception”.
God’s will is not an attack on your pleasure. It is a mercy to free you from counterfeits and bring you into that which cannot be taken from you.
This is what Christmas means. God has come to earth in the person of His Son – to restore us to His joy.
But will we come out of the shadows? Will we trust Him?