See listing of Recent and Most Popular articles on the Home Page

Faith

Category: Faith, Religion & Spirituality / Topics: Bible Christmas Easter Faith Holidays Holiday Season Jesus

Joyful and Triumphant

by Stu Johnson

Posted: January 8, 2019

Looking for Jesus between Christmas and Easter…

No.22 in the Thursday Morning Guy’s group series (see list)

THE DISCUSSION STARTER

Once again, I report from the Thursday Morning Guys group I’ve been attending at a local church. Each week one of the guys suggests a topic for discussion. The blogs that result are not minutes from the session, but an attempt to glean useful themes, to which I may add my own insights. The topic at the December 26 session centered on finding joy at Christmas and at Easter.

Topic suggested by one of the guys, shared in an email the night before

I trust you have all had a great Christmas and are now getting ready for the ordinary lives we live on the way to Easter. Can we truly appreciate the incarnation of Jesus , God with us, without considering The Tragedy of Easter and the Cross of Calvary. What about the overcoming power of Jesus the Christ and His resurrection power. He who endured the Cross for the JOY that was set before Him. How do we see the Joy of Christmas and the Joy of Easter? How are they different and how are the same?

THE CONVERSATION

Preface: the visited planet

Allow me to begin the discussion with an observation prompted by the PBS Nova program on “Pluto and Beyond” that aired last week (January 2, 2019).  It described the decade-long flight of the New Horizons spacecraft, sent to explore the far reaches of our universe.  In 2015 it sent back incredible pictures of Pluto, so far away it took four and half hours for the signal to reach earth! Now, on New Year’s Eve it flew past an object dubbed Ultima Thule. At 4 billion miles from earth, it was the farthest and most primitive object seen by humans. By now, it took 6 hours for the signal to reach earth.   (See a story in the Washington Post—just one of many on this remarkable event),

The scale of our universe—not even considering what lies beyond—makes it even more incredible that ours has been described by various authors as “The Visited Planet.” In a 2012 Christmas commentary entitled “The Visited Planet,” Philip Yancey concluded:

Could it be true, this Bethlehem story of a Creator descending to be born on one small planet?  If so, it is a story like no other.  Never again need we wonder whether what happens on this dirty little tennis ball of a planet matters to the rest of the universe.  Little wonder a choir of angels broke out in spontaneous song, disturbing not only a few shepherds but the entire universe.

That is the amazing context in which the conversation of our little group can be placed. 

The story of Jesus is a wondrous one indeed.  We humans, though created in God’s image, have broken our relationship with our Creator and stand in need of restoration.  Instead of sweeping in with the cosmic thunder of a superhero, our Creator chose to visit us, as one of us. Born as a baby, like us (though conceived in a miraculous way); growing to be an adult, like us; knowing joy and sadness, like us; dying a gruesome death by crucifixion, which others suffered; then breaking the bonds of death in the victory of resurrection. That victory is ours to share, as the familiar words of John 3:16 tell us:

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Christmas cannot be truly experienced without Easter. As I write this, we are now into the new year and find ourselves between the creche and the cross—the setting of the story of our visited planet.

Back to the conversation . . .

Just as Advent is the anticipation of the coming Messiah’s birth, so the observance of his Passion, or Holy Week, anticipates the joy of Easter.  We know how the story ends, but Jesus’ followers that fateful week experienced much anxiety and confusion.  His death and burial on Friday were seen by many as confirmation that he was no more than a blasphemous itinerant preacher . . . and then came Sunday!

Some of the comments from our conversation related to the creche of Christmas:

  • People were far less aware of events than are we today (both because we have the written account, but also because modern technology can make us more connected with events around us).  In Jesus’ time, few would have known anything about the circumstances of his birth in Bethlehem, the exile to Egypt (to escape Herod’s plot to kill all male infants in an attempt to quash what he feared  was a threat to his power by the reports he heard) and their return to Nazareth where Jesus would grow up and later begin his short public ministry.
  • The appearance of the magi, (three wise men) , celebrated on January 6 this year as Epiphany Sunday, would have been a much bigger deal than most of us imagine. The biblical story is simple, but consider the size of the company of animals and people needed to make such a long trip possible.
  • Christmas is a season of wonder, but can we fully understand the experience that Mary and Joseph went through, as they “pondered” the meaning of the virgin birth? While many Protestants may be critical of the veneration and worship of Mary by others, we would profit from pondering ourselves the exceptional role to which Mary (and Joseph) were called.
  • It is easy to find joy in a baby, but the circumstances of Jesus birth were far from ideal.  In a television program about Christmas celebrations in Europe that aired recently, one segment featured an Austrian couple who pointed out the less than five-star accommodations of a typical stable, even today. Who mucked out the stable where Mary gave birth to Jesus?

Then, the conversation turned to the cross of Easter:

  • We tend to sanitize things (including the stable), but the events of Christ’s Passion were messy in a fundamentally more horrific way—the humiliation and torture that Jesus suffered that last week was only the visible part of the story, the meaning of which we can barely begin to fathom. Beyond that, and most significant, Jesus bore the weight of the sins of humanity as the ultimate expression of love of the triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) for his creation (“as far as the curse is found” says one familiar carol). Such an act required the Incarnation—God becoming one of us in the bodily form of Jesus.
  • It is difficult for us to imagine Jesus’ anguish as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and as he cried out on the cross about being forsaken by God. His suffering provided the path of restoration (salvation) for our broken relationship with God.  
  • One of the guys who had lived in Egypt for a time commented on the intensity with which Coptic Christians focus on Christ’s Passion, which makes the joy of resurrection that much greater.
  • Too often, we do not see the totality of the story told by the Bible.  We should not dismiss the Old Testament, but get the whole story from cover to cover.  We should not go through Christmas without thinking of Easter. 
  • On a practical level for the group, the cost of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf should stir us as husbands and fathers to learn and to live lives of sacrifice and reconciliation.

What personal experiences or observations can you add?

FINDING JOY IN SCRIPTURE (God’s written Word, the Holy Bible)

While our conversation centered on Christmas and Easter, times of joy for Christians, we find referenced to joy throughout the Bible (333 were found in the New Living Translation, used below). Here are some examples. The list is divided into three parts: Old Testament, New Testament Gospels, other New Testament books.  If you explore the links to BibleGateway on any of these, you can spend hours digging deeper and finding much more.

OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGES MENTIONING JOY(selected passages):

  • Fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When the people saw this, they shouted with joy and fell face down on the ground.
    (Leviticus 9:24)
  • For seven days you must celebrate this festival to honor the Lord your God at the place he chooses, for it is he who blesses you with bountiful harvests and gives you success in all your work. This festival will be a time of great joy for all.
    (Deuteronomy 16:15)
  • And all the people followed Solomon into Jerusalem, playing flutes and shouting for joy. The celebration was so joyous and noisy that the earth shook with the sound.
    (1 Kings 1:10)
  • The gods of other nations are mere idols, but the Lord made the heavens! Honor and majesty surround him; strength and joy fill his dwelling. O nations of the world, recognize the Lord, recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong.
    (1 Chronicles 16:26-28)
  • You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.
    (Psalm 4:7)
  • You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.
    (Psalm 16:11)
  • The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living.
    (Psalm 19:8)
  • The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
    (Psalm 28:7)
  • You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!
    (Psalm 30:11-12)
  • Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
    (Psalm 32:1-2)
  • But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.
    (Psalm 59:16)
  • Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy
    (Psalm 96:12)
  • Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!  Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his.  We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
    (Psalm 100:1-3)
  • There is joy for those who deal justly with others and always do what is right.
    (Psalm 106:3)
  • Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.
    (Psalm 119:2)
  • As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands.
    (Psalm 119:143)
  • Sing for joy, O heavens! Rejoice, O earth! Burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on them in their suffering.
    (Isaiah 49:13)
  • I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels.
    (Isaiah 61:10)
  • For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
    (Zephaniah 3:17)

NEW TESTAMANT GOSPELS (In rough chronological order):

  • [The angel’s appearance to Zechariah:] But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord…
    (Luke 1:13-15)
  • [Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, soon to be the mother of John the Baptist:] When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.
    (Luke 1:44)
  • [Angelic announcement to the shepherds:] Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!
    (Luke 2:9-11)
  • When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!
    (Matthew 2:10)
  • [John the Baptist explains his role:] “You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”
    (John 3:28-30)
  • {When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist:] And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.
    (Matthew 3:17 – see also Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22)
  • [Jesus’ illustration of the harvest:] You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe[a] for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true.
    (John 4:35-37)
  • [Jesus’ talks about joy in suffering:] What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.
    (Luke 6:22-23)
  • [The parable of the sower:] The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy.
    (Matthew 13:20 – see also Mark 4:16, Luke 8:13)
  • [Jesus sends 72 disciples to preach and heal:] When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”
    (Luke 10:17)
  • [Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving:] At that same time Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and he said, “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.
    (Luke 10:21)
  • [Parable of the lost sheep:] “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’”
    {Luke 15:4-6}
  • [Parable of the lot coin:] “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”
    (Luke 15:8-10)
  • [Zacchaeus, watching from a tree above the crowd:] Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.
    (Luke 19:6)
  • [Jesus talks to the disciples about events to come:] I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. 21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. 24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.
    (John 16:20-24)
  • [The Transfiguration:] But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.”
    (Matthew 17:5)
  • [Discovery of the empty tomb:] The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message.
    (Matthew 28:8)
  • [From Jesus’ prayer before his ascension:] “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. . . “
    (John 17:13)
  • [Jesus appears to disciples after resurrection:] As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet. Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?”
    {Luke 24:40-41 – see also John 20:20)
  • [Jesus’ ascension:] While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God.
    (Luke 24:51-53)

OTHER NEW TESTAMENT PASSAGES MENTIONING JOY (selected passages in the order in which they appear in the Bible):

  • [The early church in Jerusalem:] They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity[a]— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
    (Acts 2:46-47)
  • The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted.
    (Acts 15:3)
  • I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
    (Romans 15:13)
  • They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
    (2 Corinthians 8:2)
  • Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.
    (2 Corinthians 13:11)
  • But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
    (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!
    (Philippians 4:4)
  • We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy,
    (Colossi-ans 1:11)
  • So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord.
    (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
  • Always be joyful.
    (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
  • We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
    (Hebrews 12:2)
  • So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.
    (1 Peter 1:6)
  • Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.
    (Jude 1:24)

About the Scripture references: unless indicated otherwise, these are taken from the New Living Translation (NLT).  Links connect to BibleGateway.com, where you can see other translations, view the broader context, listen to an audio version and find other Bible resources.  Also check the resources available in the Enrich/Faith section of this site.


Stu Johnson is principal of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois. He is publisher and editor of SeniorLifestyle, writes the InfoMatters blog on his own website and contributes articles for SeniorLifestyle.

Author bio (website*) E-mail the author (moc.setaicossajs@uts*) Author's website (personal or primary**)

* For web-based email, you may need to copy and paste the address yourself.

** opens in a new tab or window. Close it to return here.


Posted: January 8, 2019

Go to the list of most recent Faith Articles
Search Faith (You can expand the search to the entire site)
Go to the list of Most Recent and Most Popular Articles across the site (Home Page)

Advertisements
Sam’s Club