By Antonio Vargas Jr.
In the Gospel of Luke, we read about the divine birth pains of Mary with Jesus and the response of those surrounding. We associate the birth of Jesus with joy, and yet this is not a time where there is much to be happy about. The prayers for over 400 years have not found their respective response. The prophetic word given to Mary, Zechariah and Elizabeth does not come at a time where Israel is ruling and reigning in power and authority; this prophecy comes when Israel has no king or power. She has no leader. Oh yes, they are no longer in captivity. They have escaped Babylon, they are in their motherland, their promised land. They are in their home, but they are not at home.
Have you been in the position of Israel before? In the comfort of habit and religiosity, and still…feel enslaved to a larger thing? In a time where cancel culture, division, injustice, economic disparities and mental health issues are at an all-time high, is this really the time of joy? The world was in despair when Jesus was born. The world was in despair once Jesus ascended into heaven. Still today, there is much to have despair for.
As a seminarian at Yale University and pastor of a multiethnic church, I look around and see the great despair of our time. Both the Ivory Tower and the congregational church find themselves knee-deep in imagining, “a way out of no way,” because of post-pandemic changes and adapting to the New Tribalism era. Staff and volunteers alike are burnt out and anxious for their futures, the communities they serve and the roles they play. And yet, joy does not come from favorable human circumstances but comes greatest when those circumstances are the most painful and severe. Dr. Willie Jennings would offer us a renewed definition; “joy is the liberating act of resistance against the despairs of the world.”
To be joyous means to delight in spiritual realities. Adam Ramsey says, “Advent is a way of reminding us that we are pilgrims passing through; that the brokenness of this world isn’t how it’s always going to be; that the true King is indeed coming soon.” Saints, friends and CBF familia: joy is not found in a new political ideal, a new pastoral leadership, a fresh vision for the future, but joy is found that Jesus Christ is alive and active.
Joy is a depth of assurance and confidence that ignites a cheerful heart, no matter the circumstance, for joy comes in the morning. Joy is manifested through the movement of the Holy Spirit in God’s children. Joy is the deep sense of well-being that abides in the heart of any person who knows all is well between themselves and the Lord. Joy from the birth of Jesus tells us that even in the middle of suffering and pain, this is not the end.
Joy does not ignore our positionality and social location. Joy does not avoid reality. To be specific, the resistance to the despair of the world awakens our eyes of the realities that we are facing — both self-imposed and imposed by others. Joy is not a rejection of today, but a freedom that this is not the final verdict.
When we read Luke 2, the Messiah wrapped in cloths does not come as one sovereign coming against another to overtake and lead a coo, rather, Divinity wrapped in humanity arrives so that we “may have the full measure of joy” (John 17:13), found in Christ, the bringer of “great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10).
In a year like this, we have to ask: is there something to be joyful about? Now more than ever, we can accept and receive the invitation that joy offers through the birth and return of our Messiah, Jesus Christ. Why? Because in those hours approaching a birth, mothers often end with tears of joy — not because it’s over, but because there is a new beginning to life.
When Jesus arrives, joy arrives in its fullness to give us liberation power from the pain of today. We can say with full confidence: joy to the world! Let earth receive her king!