The Awe and Joy of Christmas
A long time ago in a far away land, something happened that changed the course of history.
Before I continue, answer this. When was the last time you felt a sense of awe, wonder, or pure joy?
Was it at the birth of a child? Was it when you found out your brother was coming home safely from overseas? Was it at the news of your acceptance into the master’s program? Was it upon opening a hand written letter from your dearest love? Was it seeing the sun rise from the peak of Mt. Everest?
Have you noticed that as you get older, it takes more and more to produce a sense of awe and joy?
We are bored with the usual. We’ve seen that one already. We’ve heard that joke before. We got that promotion five years ago, and it didn’t satisfy us as we thought. We tried that drug, and it doesn’t produce the same high anymore. We’ve been let down by people we trusted. We’ve shot for the stars except we didn’t end up on the moon, but in the mud.
Disappointment, age, and experience have a tendency to paint life melancholy. The dark night sky looms above us.
Every year around this time, I meditate on the Christmas story. As a child, Christmas meant fun, carols, presents, lights, time off from school, and a little mischief and cheer. Christmas Eve was when we would celebrate and open presents. Collectively as a society it’s a time to think about the story of Christ’s birth. At least when I was growing up, we thought about it. Right before presents, my parents always read the tale of Jesus’ birth from the gospel of Matthew or Luke.
I remember wanting to hurry through the Bible reading to get to the good stuff, the presents. Now however, it’s quite the opposite.
Perhaps, it’s just me but hasn’t the world grown increasingly negative and weary? It’s rare to hear good news on any major media channel these days. People live in an unspoken state of panic, anxiety, and discontentment. Society hangs by a thread. Without a doubt, there is plenty to be concerned about.
… But that’s just it. At the time when life seems darkest, there appears a distant star. This is what happened all those years ago in the small country of Israel, the birth that changed history.
As I was reading through the first and second chapters of Luke this year, I was struck by the repeated mention of the words “awe” and “joy.”
The word awe conjures up wide eyes, a gaping mouth, a loss for words, a sense of wonder, a breathless pause. Life has just taken you by surprise. Your senses have been overwhelmed.
The word joy is different than happiness. Here’s why. Happiness comes from the root word “Hap” which means “chance, fortune” or “to suit, fit” or “favorable, convenient.” In other words, a state of favorable or pleasant circumstances. Everything is going your way; it fits.
Happiness comes from without. Joy comes from within.
It’s possible to radiate joy in the midst of loss or pain. It’s possible to feel joy with few material possessions or without the need for the acceptance of others. Joy tells us everything is going to be all right, better than all right. It lifts us and consequently anyone around us. It is a gift from God.
As I read through the familiar Christmas story again this year, I couldn’t find a single person who didn’t experience awe and joy. Everyone from shepherds to Mary and Elizabeth to people in Jerusalem and the countryside were overcome at the news.
In Luke 1:1-2:40, awe and joy are mentioned equally at five times each for a total of ten instances! They are probably mentioned more than any other emotion or reaction to the news the angel spoke that,
“Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
What about you? Where do you stand? Are you a Christian who has allowed the storms of life to beat you down? Are you a non-believer who can’t help but wish that something in this world would bring you a sense of purpose, joy, and awe again like when you were a child?
It’s easy for the innocent to rejoice. It’s easy for a child to scream with delight. God did not choose to reveal Jesus on that cold morning to kings and princes. He chose to reveal him to lowly shepherds, to ordinary people living in Israel. You see God is no respecter of persons.
So often we make Christmas about everything except what it truly is. Forget the twenty errands to Target, Walmart, Amazon.com, and Victoria’s Secret. Forget impressing people with hand made cards. Forget having the perfect holiday party for your friends. Forget Santa Clause and Rudolph.
It’s a time to be overwhelmed with awe and joy. It’s a time to envision yourself on a cold blustery hillside with bleating sheep and all of a sudden, the sky lights up with the radiance of a thousand suns and a voice thunders to you from the angels in heaven declaring the birth of the Son of God!
It’s a time to see yourself beside oxen and donkeys in a damp, dark stable where the glimmering light of the stars flickers on this child laying in a manger. It’s a time to place yourself at the temple of Jerusalem when a man named Simeon says that God spoke to him that this child is going to be the Glory of Israel and the Light of Revelation to the Gentiles.
“His name shall be called Jesus because he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)
You can have joy and awe this day not because you deserve either. Not because you are someone important. But because God chose to demonstrate his love for you by sending his Son into the world. Friends, there is no greater reason to rejoice! There is no greater cause for wonder and amazement.
When life is heavy it’s easy to lose the sense of awe and joy. There are entire industries built on the premise of bringing joy/happiness/wonder into people’s lives. Think about all the entertainment dollars spent, the money spent on counseling, the new cars, the pills or drugs taken… and where are you now?
Do you want lasting peace? Do you want to recover that long lost sense that the world could be new again?
You are in good company. It was found in a lowly place, among ordinary people two thousand years ago. And it is still found in the heart that says, “Yes Lord, I am ready to receive your gift. I can scarcely believe it, but if it be true, I’m all in!”
Won’t you stop your striving and lay down all your excuses? Will you do that today? Will you allow the awe and joy of God to fill your heart? You see Jesus isn’t afraid to be born in dirty and humble places. He was born in a lowly manger, and He is willing to be born inside of you! Will you let him in?
Claim this promise from the prophet Isaiah for yourself today:
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
Merry Christmas to you all!