Summary: Our Lord’s coming gives us a real reason to smile; the joy he brings lasts forever.
Christmas is almost here! Only two more weeks and the whole ordeal will be over for another year! I actually heard someone say that on the radio the other day. Sadly, he’s right. For a lot of people Christmas isn’t a time of happiness, but a time of frustration; it’s not a time for joy, but depression.
It appears that the Christmas holiday has become an obligation – something we must endure. And don’t dare have a good time doing it! Smile and wish someone a Merry Christmas, and they might look at you as if to say, “Just what are you so happy about?”
The truth is we hear that question all of the time, whether it’s Christmas or not. The devil, our sinful hearts, even this crazy world, challenges our joy and happiness everyday. WHAT ARE YOU SMILING ABOUT? They ask. Thankfully, we have an answer, especially during Advent and Christmas. Today, we see the reason for our joy and happiness. We’re smiling because 1) The Lord brings salvation to the afflicted, and 2) he provides a way out of confusion.
1) The Lord brings salvation to the afflicted
It’s been said that more people become depressed at Christmas then at another time of the year. I struggle to understand this. Now, I realize that Christmas can be hard if you’ve lost a loved one, or if you’ve fallen on financially hard times. Yet, most people have no real reason to be unhappy or depressed, and, yet, they are.
I don’t think the issue is a matter of unhappiness as much as it is one of emptiness. People feel empty. They feel unfulfilled. They feel unsatisfied. And these feelings come from people who have so much. Our lives are not empty of blessings. Blessings abound. Still we feel unhappy and dissatisfied.
I believe this happens because we confuse fun with joy. To have fun is not the same thing as being joyful. In fact, we can be joyful even when we aren’t having fun.
But fun becomes crucial if you’re using it as a substitute for real joy. If what you feel deep inside is not joy, but emptiness, then you need to fill that emptiness somehow. You’ve got to find a way to distract yourself, because the alternative is to hurt, and to hurt badly. And so you’ll go to any lengths to amuse yourself. No price is too much to pay if it takes your mind off that emptiness inside.
Just consider the phenomenon known as “the holiday shopping season.” The day after Thanksgiving people flock to the store to buy and buy and buy. The day after Christmas people flock back to the stores to return, return, and return. The reason for this is because people are not happy. People still feel empty and unfulfilled. None of those gifts provided lasting joy, so the alternative is to take them back for something else. Now, I’m not saying that shopping or gift giving is bad. It’s not. That’s a wonderful part of Christmas. And it’s good for our economy and so forth. But if the hope of receiving that “perfect” gift becomes the sum total of your Christmas, then its no wonder people are so unhappy and empty inside.
If people today feel empty inside, they’re not the first ones. A world of inner emptiness is exactly what Isaiah’s describing here, when he talks about a world of feeble hands and weak knees. This is a world that has no confidence anymore, a world that’s lost its nerve. It’s a place of "sorrow" and "sighing" and "fearful hearts." In Isaiah’s day, the people of Judah were extremely fearful. They looked at the world scene, and saw an invasion on the horizon. The people of Judah were soon to be invaded, captured, and sent into exile in Babylon. They lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their families. Our fears are the same. We have fears of crime, and disease, and poverty. Fear of the future. Fear of death. Fear, sometimes, of we-don’t-know-what, but fear all the same.
All this is what suddenly changes, Isaiah says. Sorrow and sighing flee away. Fear is replaced with joy: not fun, but joy. Joy in all the world, because the Lord has come.
God comes into the world. Suddenly, lonely, sad people in a lonely, sad world see God. They see his glory. They see his splendor. They see his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Father’s one-and-only Son, comes into the world to show us what God is like: to show us how powerful he is, but also how kind, and compassionate. Jesus comes to show us that we’re not alone, and we never have been. Our enemies are fierce, and our fears are real--but God knows all about them, and he cares. And he cares enough to do something. He cared enough to become one of us, to stoop down to our own level, to put his shoulder underneath the burden of all our fears and worries, and take it away. He cared enough to be born into our world, to live with us, to die for us, to be our Savior.