December 20, 2023

Where Is The Source of Your Joy This Christmas?

From the World Or To The World?

As 25 December nears, it’s hard to know where to find beauty and meaning, let alone any joy. Best in these circumstances, I often think, to look to the universe – the stars and the moon – for comfort.

These words come from one of the most grindingly despairing articles I have read this Christmas about Christmas. They’re the words of opinion writer in The Guardian, Paul Daley, who laments – and it is indeed a lament – the joylessness facing him, and the world over the supposedly festive season. You can read the rest here. Go on, I dare you.

What strikes me most about the article is the almost complete absence of anything transcendent in his thinking. Nothing above that cold, impersonal universe and the stars and the moon. Is that it? Is that the best offering the secular world has?

Here’s a man, a writer – wise in the eyes of the world -, who looks to the stars as the possible source of his joy – when the wisest of men in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth look not to the stars but to the one to whom the star is pointing.

It seems almost too ironic to contemplate. Does he not get it?

Here’s the true dividing point between the secular and Christian world:

The difference between a secular and Christian Christmas is this: Joy FROM the world versus joy TO the world.

The Source of our Joy

There can be no starker reality than that. And no starker reality this Christmas, given the riven nature of our world at the moment. Whether its culture war in our society, actual war in our world, or as Paul Daley seems to intimate, the war of despair ragingin within, the source of our joy is critical.

Paul Daley, sophisticate though he would presume to be, looks to the created order for his joy in exactly the same way that a person looks to the new iPhone or the designer bag as the source of their joy this Christmas: Joy FROM the world.

Yet the Christmas message, as the wonderful carol proclaims, is joy TO the world!

In reality the human experience is simply that, ever since Adam and Eve in the garden looked to find their source of meaning and purpose outside of God’s good design for them. It’s either joy FROM the world, an increasingly internalised and anxious (and in the end, futile) search.

Or it’s joy TO the world – the gift from the perfect Giver in whom is no shadow of turning.

Paul Daley’s despair leaks out of him at every turn, so much so that I would not be surprised at him thinking of self-harm at some level, or at the very least, self-medication.

But joy feels as elusive as a Tassie tiger right now. It is a unicorn. A needle in a haystack. I know I’m not at all alone when I say that, this year, finding joy feels almost impossible.

Of course. And perhaps that’s what I want to hear from secularists this year. A good dose of reality. Finally. At last an admission that you can’t just drink or eat or purchase your despair away.

Make Merry Or Else!

Yet not through want of trying. Denial is still a thing. I was on a Zoom call today sorting out my first consult for the new year at a school’s Professional Development Day. The principal told me that his local council had decided that they wouldn’t use the word “Christmas” this year.

What did they have? Not even “Happy Holidays. But this “Make Merry!”

Make Merry? A command. Law. Not gospel. Make merry ye merryless people! Make merry ye despairing crowd! Make merry ye angst ridden, hopelessly depressed young people who see no future! Make merry ye grieving widower! Make merry ye battered housewife! Make merry ye sexually abused children! Make merry I say! It’s commanded of thee!

So the role of the local council is to collect the bins, sort out parking, and demand that its joyless residents make merry.

It’s gross, grotesque law! The source of their joy and salvation in the wonderful gospel message stares them in the face – a joy that can received in spite of the awful nature of our world, a joy TO the world not FROM the world, and the office-cubicled, emailed missive from the mini-Herods who ruling their local patch with as much secular zeal as they can muster is “Make Merry!”


What happens when one comes to the end of their despair? Paul Daley, despite my concern for him, at least hints that he is wrestling with the issue:

Now is when, I think, religion – if I had it – could be such a balm. Perverse, really, given it begins so many wars and is responsible down the ages for so much killing.

One wonders where this despair will bottom out?

My prayer – indeed my hope and increasingly my observation – is that people are getting sick of thinking that the moon, the stars and the universe (never mind a new iPhone), can bring that joy to them that they so desperately seek. Perhaps one Christmas some time soon will be the tipping point.

Perhaps despairing souls who have long railed against the Christmas story of joy TO the world will finally become meek souls who receive Him. Goodness knows the Paul Daleys of this world could do worse than that.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

Perhaps a messenger will bring that message to Paul Daley one day, and he will discover a deep joy given TO the world, rather than continue the despairing search for it FROM it.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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