There are lots of things that might make us less-than-joyful at Christmas and other times throughout the year, such as disappointed expectations regarding holiday celebrations, gifts, friends, family members, and ourselves, including perhaps impossible occupational, social, and physical measures we might use for comparison.
The Christmas angel of Luke 2:10-11 told the shepherds good news of great joy for all people, including us. A Savior, Christ the Lord, was born that day in the city of David, and that objective fact is unchanged by whatever we subjectively might let get in the way of its great joy.
Sin and the brokenness and death it brings are ultimately behind our disappointed expectations and less-than-joyful dispositions, but they are also the reasons that the Savior, Jesus Christ, was born. Out of God’s great love for you and me, Jesus came to save us who are otherwise lost in our sin (Luke 19:10). As God leads us to recognize and turn away from our sin and to trust Him to forgive our sin for Jesus’s sake, we can experience that great joy!
There are only three other times that the New Testament uses the exact same expression for “great joy”. The first is Easter morning as the women departed quickly from Jesus’s empty tomb with fear and great joy (Matthew 28:8). The second is after Jesus’s Ascension as the eleven disciples-turned-apostles returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Luke 24:52). And, the third is after Philip proclaimed Christ in word and deed, making great joy in the city of Samaria (Acts 8:8).
The Savior Jesus Christ not only was born unto us but also was crucified and resurrected for us and now exclusively gives us the joy-causing benefits of His birth and death for us: in His read and preached Word, in His Word applied with water in Baptism, in His called servants’ words of individual Absolution, and in His Word combined with bread and wine that is His Body and Blood. Receiving those gifts in faith, we can move past sin and its effects and so have great joy at Christmastime and always!
The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.