You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Ps. 4:7)
When I was younger, Christmas seemed to have a split personality. Religious Christmas was deep and serious. It was weeks of waiting, candles in the dark, and four-stanza hymns. It was extra church services and listening to Luke 2 (again) before opening gifts. It frowned on things like commercialism, Santa Claus, and saying “Happy Holidays!”
Secular Christmas, on the other hand, was bright and glittery. It was lights, parties, and kitchen countertops loaded with cookies and chocolate. It was snowmen with black hats and reindeer with red noses. It was cousins to play with and a mountain of presents under the tree—some from Santa.
It can almost make you wonder if Christians know how to have fun. Is Christianity just a bunch of rules keeping you from the real pleasures of life? Don’t buy too much. Don’t believe in magic. Don’t drink too much. Don’t have sex with your boyfriend. Don’t swear. Don’t gamble.
But if you dig into this, even a little bit, the lie gives way. The lesser amusements we turn to for happiness—sex, alcohol, a perfectly clean house, a new car, a bigger bank balance—deliver a burst of bliss that quickly wanes. Secular Christmas, with its enthusiastic sparkles, dumps us into the cold gray of January.
Christian joy is much weightier, more durable. It comes from a clean conscience washed by Jesus’s blood (1 John 1:7), from confidence in a future God controls (Prov. 19:21), and from knowing we cannot be separated from a God who’s working everything for our good (Rom. 8:28, 38–39). Christian joy is also fun. “You shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days,” says Leviticus 23:40. “Shout for joy!” exclaims Psalm 32:11. “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion,” the Lord declares in Zechariah 2:10.
For comparison, here’s a quote from Ruhollah Khomeini, the grand ayatollah of Iran.
Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. Islam does not allow swimming in the sea and is opposed to radio and television serials. Islam, however, allows marksmanship, horseback riding and competition.
Place that next to Isaiah 65:18: “Be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” Or David dancing before the Lord with all his might (2 Sam. 6:14). Or the Israelites whose “mouths were filled with laughter, [their] tongues with songs of joy” (Ps. 126:2, NIV).
Secular Christmas, with its enthusiastic sparkles, dumps us into the cold gray of January. Christian joy is much weightier, more durable.
Our Creator is the One who invented jokes and belly laughs and parties. He gave us friendships, dance moves, and the ability to come up with a perfectly timed one-liner. Jesus’s first miracle wasn’t to destroy the wicked or even to feed the hungry but to add wine to a week-long wedding party. When he returns for us, the celebration is going to be even more magnificent (Rev. 19:6–9).
I used to think Christmas had a split personality, but it doesn’t. In truth, religious Christmas includes both “Silent Night” by candlelight and the pile of gifts around the tree. It’s both serving at the food pantry and platters of food at Grandma’s house. It’s both “Joy to the World” and “Jingle Bells.”
The solemnity of Advent wreaths and Bible reading add to the joy of family celebrations, twinkling light displays, and penning Christmas cards. Out of the deep joy of being right with God springs laughter and lightness. A heart that rests secure in God is best positioned to enjoy family events (even difficult ones), to sing loudly, to delight in the gifts others receive, and to savor homemade cookies fresh out of the oven.
The Lord has put more joy in our hearts than they have when grain and wine abound.
Which religious aspects of the holiday seem dull or tedious beside the shine of secular Christmas? How can you remind yourself that a heart filled with joy in the Lord produces the best laughter?
Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains
Gloria, in excelsis Deo
Gloria, in excelsis Deo
– James Chadwick (English paraphrase),
“Angels We Have Heard on High”
The Gospel Coalition