That Your Joy May Be Full

Our new theme for 2019: “That Your Joy May Be Full.” It is our hope that emphasis on this theme throughout the year will reinforce the great blessings that come to God’s people.

Jesus’ entrance into the world was cause for great joy primarily due to the fact that God was beginning to visit Israel with salvation. For over 400 years God had not communicated directly with Israel. In this interim Israel had suffered greatly under the Seleucids. Afterward, they chafed under Roman occupiers who enforced the Empire’s laws and collected taxes. The Jewish laity was also frustrated by their own leaders who burdened them with empty traditions and oppressive power structures.

Israel’s desire for God’s intervention was primarily carnal. They wanted Rome to be punished and Israel restored to its former glory. But God had far greater blessings in mind. A harbinger of what was to come was revealed to a low-level priest who came into the temple for his annual service:

Zacharias. While in the holy place to burn incense, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias beside the altar. The priest’s initial reaction was not one of joy: “And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him” (Lk 1:12). But the angel puts him at ease: “Do not be afraid Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth …” (1:13-14). Like so many Israelite women before her in the Lord’s lineage, Elizabeth had been barren. But in her old age (1:7, 18) she would now bear a child, “for he will be great in the sight of the Lord … He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (1:15-17).

Elizabeth. Zacharias’ wife was undoubtedly shocked to read her husband’s report (he was mute) when he returned from his temple duties:

Elizabeth: “How did your service go, dear?”

Zacharias (paraphrased): “You’re never gonna believe this …”.

When this joy was realized Elizabeth “hid herself five months, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men’” (Lk 1:25). Infertility for a Jewish woman was a sign of God’s disfavor, a divine curse on she who could not add to Abraham’s posterity. Elizabeth is finally free of that stigma!

A month later Gabriel appeared to a young maiden, a relative of Elizabeth’s, with similar astonishing words:

Mary. “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Lk 1:28). Again, the initial reaction was not one of joy: “But when she saw him, she was troubled at this saying … Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God’” (1:29-30). And how was this favor expressed? Gabriel tells Mary that she will have a Son: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end … that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God …” (1:32-33, 35).

Shortly thereafter, an angel pays a visit to a young man who concluded that his betrothed has apparently become pregnant by an illicit affair.

Joseph: “Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son …” (Mt 1:20-21). What relief to hear that his bride had been faithful after all!

God’s plans often create fear in man. His presence (or even that of an angel) and activities are unsettling until further explained. We are so fragile before an Almighty God that we should never take Him or His purposes lightly: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:9). Zacharias learned this lesson the hard way.

Further, these two sets of parents are bearing children that will suffer horribly. Of the four, only Mary will be there to witness the full rage of evil against her Son. Yet, joy and good news are announced at their births. How is this possible? Because the joy they bring is not temporal or emotional but the higher blessings of spiritual well-being. In the words of the angel to Joseph: “And He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).

The joy of the Christian transcends the external circumstances of pain, sickness, worry, failure, persecution and the like. It is rooted in a secure fellowship with God that supersedes distressing emotions.

In this life hard times will come to all, believers and unbelievers alike. The gospel does not shield us against heavy impacts. But when they come, a deep joy enables us to keep things in context so that we are not overwhelmed. When we are overwhelmed we become vulnerable to Satan’s lying whispers. And if we give heed to those, we will sacrifice the relationship that is the foundation of our hope. And when hope is gone …