It is the season for Christmas carols. Perhaps one of the most well-known and familiar is Joy to the World. Written by Isaac Watts, the hymn is based on Psalm 98 with excerpts from Genesis 3:17-18.
Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
Yet what many may not recognize is this popular hymn celebrates Christ’s second coming as much as His first. It looks forward to the time when Jesus will reign the whole earth. The third stanza stands out from the rest.
No more let sins and sorrows grow.
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
We live in a broken world where the curse of sin reaches to every corner and heart of this world. One only has to read the newspapers or watch the news or look into his own home to see the effects the curse brought into this world by the fall of man. The perfect world created by God the Father was broken by the sin of Adam and now all of creation groans under the bondage of sin. (Ro. 8)
Christ entered this broken world in order to free mankind from the burden of sin and death. For all who believe, there is freedom and hope and the promise that this earth is not permanent. There is a day coming when the perfect garden will be restored and all who know Christ as Savior will live with Him in the new heaven and new earth. (Rev. 21-22)
Yet how are believers to live in the in between? How are believing Christians who know these truths and sing these beautiful Christmas carols to live in the midst of brokenness and pain? Holidays are supposed to be filled with love and full of joy. Yet for those hurting and grieving, holidays can be times filled with pain and sadness.
Where does the person turn when life is hard? Living between the two advents of Christ, knowing He has come and He will come, how does one live with joy in the midst of sorrow? Many books have been written, many songs composed, many sermons preached addressing the pain of the holidays. The intention of this article is to set forth some principles that may be helpful in living with joy in a broken world and with a broken heart.
Principle #1 is Finding Joy. This world promises happiness. The constitution of the United States declares the pursuit of happiness to be one of three unalienable rights given to all human beings by their Creator. This pursuit of happiness is supposedly protected by the government. Yet one does not need to live long in order to recognize how fleeting happiness is. One can be happy with one’s job only to be unhappy a month later. One can be happy with one’s spouse, only to be unhappy a year later. One can be happy with one’s home, or car or diet and then unhappy all within a day. Happiness is elusive because it is a feeling.
Joy, however, is more than a feeling. Joy is a state of mind and for the believer joy is found in the person of Jesus Christ. ‘Joy to the World’ as Isaac Watts wrote has come because Jesus Christ has been born. Believers can know joy in the midst of heartbreaking circumstances. Joy is found in knowing and trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior.
Choosing joy means to be purposeful and deliberate. It is not hoping the day will be good or that nothing will trigger a painful memory of the one who has gone. It is taking captive thoughts that are negative and spirally downward.
The loss of a child is perhaps the most painful of losses. To bury a child is to go against the natural events of a life. People marry, have children, grow old and their children take care of them in their old age. Eventually, the children bury their parents. That is the logical sequence of events. The death of a child reverses that order. For parents who have planned their child’s funeral and burial there is a sense that everything has gone awry.
Our family is living in the midst of such loss. Two years ago our 21-year-old son was hit by a drunk driver while crossing a street in College Station, Texas. Sustaining severe brain trauma, our family made the heartbreaking decision to take him off life support and let him go on to his forever home.
Yet in the midst of searing pain and loss, knowing Jesus brings comfort and even joy. There is the promise that this world is not home. There is a promise that Christ has overcome death and so too will believers. There is joy in knowing the suffering is not forever yet glory and heaven are. This leads to the second principle.
Principle #2 is Choosing Joy. One can know these truths yet life is still hard. The holidays bring to surface the pain that for the most part can be contained. There is a person for whom one wants to buy Christmas presents and plan meals for and that person is gone. There is the devastation of looking at a stocking that will not be filled. There is the heartache that things are not as they should be.
So how does one live knowing joy and yet still grieving? It is a choice. Just as one deliberately chooses what to wear or where to drive, those grieving must deliberately choose joy. It is choosing to believe the promises of God’s Word. It is intentionally memorizing Scriptures filled with promises of joy. Jesus told his disciples as they grieved his impending departure ‘Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice and no one will take away your joy’ John 16:22 (NIV).
Choosing joy means to be purposeful and deliberate. It is not hoping the day will be good or that nothing will trigger a painful memory of the one who has gone. It is taking captive thoughts that are negative and spirally downward. It is choosing to look past the pain of this world to the promises of the next. It is an eternal perspective that allows one to live with joy even with a broken heart. It is reading God’s Word and holding onto the truths found there. This is helped by the last principle.
Principle #3 is Spreading Joy. It is living out the advice of Proverbs 3:27. ‘Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act’. Simple acts of kindness and mercy shown during the holiday season will brighten the lives of others and bring joy to the one spreading it.
Take the time to buy presents for those not on the regular Christmas list. Spread joy by being a ‘Secret Santa’ to a family who may also be hurting. Giving the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ to someone anonymously is another way to spread joy. There is a sweet joy in giving to someone else for the pleasure of giving expecting nothing in return. It is the purest form of giving. Writing notes of encouragement to others who have faced loss can also brighten the day for the receiver as well as the giver. Spreading joy can be contagious. It has the concept of paying something positive forward. When the person receiving the gifts or notes is moved to do so for another, the idea of contagious joy has caught on.
One can know joy. One can intentionally choose joy and one can spread joy. The holidays can be embraced even through tears. Whatever pain and suffering this broken world presents, the apostle Paul reminded believers they would not be worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us. (Ro. 8) When believers suffer great loss and pain yet keep their eyes on Christ and choose joy, God is glorified.
Kimberly Kennedy – Guest Contributor
Kimberly and her husband have four children, one of whom is already in his forever home. She teaches God’s Word through BSF International.