Joy, Unspeakable Joy – that has been our theme these two weeks and these three Sundays of Christmas 2015.
There is Joy at the beginning of that title, and Joy at the end. And in like fashion, there is joy at the beginning of time (the angels sang for joy at creation – Job 38:7) and at the end with the restoration of all things in the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom.
The problem for us, of course, is that we are caught now in the middle of those bookends. We experience seasons of joy, and there is a deep-seated inner peace and confidence that even in the sorrows and sadnesses, we know what the future holds. And any pain in this sojourn is worth it all in light of that greater truth.
So we should rejoice especially in this season and time on the calendar when these truths percolate again to the front of our minds and consciences. And even in a world that increasingly rejects truth, peace, and the king of peace, we should not fear or hesitate identification with Jesus.
In the passage that begins in Hebrews 12 (see yesterday) that talks about the joy set before Christ, the path to the joy involved suffering along the way. This too shall be our experience. And as the writer to the Hebrews brings this thought to a close in chapter 13, he encourages the readers (and us by extension) to be identified with Christ and his sufferings …
11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
In this world that hates Christ, yes, bear that disgrace. Don’t hesitate to be identified with him. Any city here, and gain or glory here, it is all fading … but another greater city is yet to come that will never perish.
In the meantime, be quick to openly profess Christ. And note also that immediately following this exhortation is the command to not fail to think of others in doing good and sharing with them. There’s a Christmas theme!
I’ll finish the series with this story. I was listening recently to a podcast by Dallas Seminary of a talk with a seminary professor in an evangelical school in Jordan. One can imagine the complications of being so openly Christian in that context. While noting the difficulties as very real, this theological scholar also said that there are many in that region of the world who are attracted to and are coming to know Christ. And he said that a big part of it is the wonderful Gospel message that stands opposite the theme of the majority religion in that corner of the earth. Whereas they have been told that they are to give up their lives for God to gain eternity, the Christian message is that God has come in Christ and given up his life for them. That is a message of incarnational joy.