Good news of great joy—that’s what the angels sang. That’s what we have been celebrating. The greatest news of the greatest joy, for all people: a Savior has come, Christ the Lord. Every Christmas season the joy of this good news flows into believers’ hearts afresh—and mixes with the current set of this world’s sorrows.
It’s a recurring “sync.” Every sorrow gets updated. In light of joy, first of all sorrow’s colors show more dark and deep.
It can jar our souls to take in the juxtapositions of the biblical story: the joy of a child’s birth surrounded by the agony of many deaths . . . Mary’s song echoing round mothers’ weeping for the baby boys Herod killed . . . farther back, Moses’s birth in the midst of the babies Pharaoh killed—and then deliverance from Egypt and through the Red Sea with all those corpses little and big left behind. In our own time we know the joy of births among family and friends and famous people celebrated against the shadowy backdrop of all those babies extracted from safe warm wombs and killed, by the millions. Unrelenting updates add deeper shadows to the landscape, as our family celebrations are lit up in part by news flashes of whole families slaughtered, of other people’s family members beheaded, of whole schools of children kidnapped, abused, or murdered, of men and boys shooting each other in the cities where we live.
Joy makes sorrow stand out starkly. This is surely meant to be; we must not let the sorrow and brokenness slide by without fierce recognition. I have one sibling, an older sister, who for years has taken great joy in training and directing children’s choirs in her church—especially at Christmas time. This year as the choirs sang she sat quietly with her walker, next to her husband who lovingly cares for her as she suffers the degenerative effects of a rare brain disease. My picture of this season’s joyful celebration includes this grievous part of the scene—and the grief of it seems accentuated by the joyful songs circling round my sister in that church.
All kinds of sorrow and death, public and private, get exposed by the joy. You who are reading know. You who lost your loved one. You who lost your baby. You with dreams deferred. You whose spouse broke the vows of marriage. You who are caught in sin you hate and can’t seem to free yourself from. We all know, in one way or another.
This is why Jesus came: to shine in the darkness. This world’s been dark with sin and sorrow since the fall. We must not close our eyes and pretend it’s light, or assume that we can make it light. Joy comes in, and sorrow heaves up to meet it. Light comes in—the light of life—and death gets exposed.
But that’s not all. Of course that’s not all. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). No, the light overcomes the dark. Joy doesn’t just expose the sorrow; it pierces it through. This is the good news of great joy: the Savior of the world came to bring the light of life, and his light will dispel all the darkness forever.
How did Jesus pierce the sin and sorrow through? This is what we need to know, to think on, in order to suffer the death all around us now on the way to life and light. How? Jesus took our sin and sorrow, man of sorrows that he was, and he was pierced himself, on the cross, in our place. Light of the world by darkness slain.
It was that piercing that pierced sin and sorrow and death, finally and fatally—because the light of the world could not be overcome. The remnants of death and darkness all around us are the violent death-throes of death, a writhing for just a little while until the full light of the risen Savior appears and banishes all the darkness finally and forever. That will be the final update. The fate of death itself is written down: it will be thrown with Satan into the lake of fire for eternity (Rev. 20:7-15).
Right now, especially with Christmas light still shining, joy shows sorrow’s colors dark and deep. Let’s not close our eyes; let’s look deep and sorrow deeply, fiercely hating and battling the sin and brokenness that started with that serpent in Eden. And then let’s look at the Savior and see how bright is the light. Let’s keep singing songs of joy about the light—let’s sing loud and all together, so that our songs enfold all the present sorrow with the hope of the full light of day. Come on, children, sing of the Savior at the top of your voices, and let your songs swirl their joy all around my sister who knows that joy deep in her. Around all of us.
The light has come, and conquered. This is the good news of great joy in the midst of present sorrow and death: Jesus came, he died, he rose, he reigns, and he is coming again.