Oh, the joy of commercials! Interrupting our favorite shows and leaving us in suspense (or giving us a snack break), they fill our TV screens to convince us of something we need. Every year at this time, my emotions remind me of the marketing genius behind these ads. You can’t help but crack up when, after watching a bunch of “kid” penguins jump into arctic waters and complain about the cold, one dad penguin tells the other dad penguin he’s “gonna jump in that hot tub over there”. And who doesn’t tear up when Alexa tells a new dad at the end of his first day home with the baby, “I’m reminding you Laura loves you and you’re doing a great job.” 😭
But one commercial I saw this season just left me feeling confused. The ad shows a montage of home videos in which people open a gift and then freak out about what’s in the box. The over-the-top nature of their reactions led me to assume that these unboxed items included things like a positive pregnancy test or tickets to a dream vacation. But it turns out it was just a smartphone. Really?
I’m not sure I would ever be that excited about a phone, but I can see why someone might. With the wifi or data connection turned on, a smartphone gives its user access to the unlimited information, communication, news, TV, movies, photos, and games the internet provides. It’s not about the phone itself, it’s about what the phone gives you access to and the speed and quality at which you can now access it!
Christmas is a time for joy, but if you’re like me, you struggle to find it. If you’ve been around the Christian world long enough, you know that “joy” does not have to equal “happiness,” but I’ll admit that after 40 years on this earth and 20 years in ministry, Christmas is kind of old news. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that the “joy” of Christmas is not in the decorations, parties, presents, music, or even the yummy food. I know that joy is found in the celebration of the birth of a baby, but is this birth really something to get all excited about?
In his prophecy in Luke 1, Zechariah declared the reason for the great joy that would come from Jesus’ birth:
First, it was the joy that God “has come to his people” (v. 68) Rather than a constant striving to access the favor and benevolence of a higher power, this higher power came to His people.
Second, it was the joy that in coming, He “redeemed them” (v. 68) and gave them “salvation from [their] enemies” (v. 71). The concept of ‘salvation’ implies that God would bring His mighty power with Him and then use it in their favor to spare them from further pain or disaster.
And third, it was the joy that because of this salvation, they would be enabled to “serve him without fear” (v. 74). To Zechariah, this meant Israel’s worship of God would be “freed from foreign oppression and internal dissensions”* but we now see the bigger picture – that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the localized, personal presence of the Holy Spirit would now empower all believers to serve “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (v. 75).
Paul puts this together for us so well in Ephesians 2:18 where he states that through Jesus we “have access to the Father by one Spirit”. When God came to us in Jesus, He gave us great reason for joy! Because this baby was born, I have access, through that way-better-than-LTE Holy Spirit connection, to the “holiness and righteousness” of the Father and, therefore, can “serve Him without fear”.
Over-the-top joy comes from knowing I don’t have to strive for access to God, I already have it because of Jesus. Joy comes from realizing I don’t have to hide my sin because the “tender mercy of our God” is on perpetual download (v. 78). Joy comes from understanding I don’t have to know it all because His Spirit’s GPS will “guide [my] feet” (v. 79). Joy comes from acknowledging that He’s the One with the power and ability to do the redeeming, so I don’t have to focus on results. And deep-seated joy occurs when I look around at the problems in this world, feel completely hopeless, but then am reminded that I am a “hotspot” of His Spirit and He is working through me “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (v. 79).
If Christmas has become old news for you, maybe it’s time to stand up and show some unreasonable joy. Jump, leap, shout, freak out, do a happy dance (I can’t “floss,” but maybe you can?), or just sing at the top of your lungs!
Good Christian men, rejoice,
With heart and soul, and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door,
And man is blessed forevermore.
Christ was born for this!
Christ was born for this!