The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
The Joy Principle
After detailing the events of the Last Supper, John provides a riveting three-chapter (14-16) transcript of the conversation following Judas’s abrupt departure. Jesus alone realizes this is His last chance as an earthly man to speak privately with His disciples and His words read as a staggering sequel—a bookend, if you will—to the Sermon on the Mount. While the core message of self-sacrificial love remains, the content is much denser and the tone more urgent. Almost precisely at the discussion’s midpoint, Jesus says, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15.10-11) He concludes this passage with, “This is my command: Love each other.” (v17) In essence, then, we experience complete joy by abiding in Christ’s love. We remain in His love by obeying Him. We obey by loving one another. Total love, total joy—that’s the principle in a nutshell. They’re directly proportional: love for all brings joy to all and joy for all brings love to all.
Love and joy are so interdependent in Jesus’s teaching they’re virtually synonymous. What's more, this relationship didn't evolve as His ministry matured. It was there from the first, in the angel’s declaration to the shepherds on the night of His birth. In breaking the “good news of great joy… for all the people,” he simultaneously launched Christ’s gospel of love. The headline, of course, is “Today a Savior has been born to you.” Below that banner, though, is the whole story. Profound misery and sadness produced by sin would be remedied by love. Joy had come to the world at last and it would last because the Newborn Savior would redeem and endow us with everlasting love.
Looking Love in the Face
Later, in his first epistle, John alludes to Christ’s joy principle: “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it… so that you also may have fellowship with us… We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1.2-4) The compulsion to tell the good news of Christ’s love is common in those who see Him. Looking Love in the face generates unrestrained joy. It implores us to draw others into fellowship—in other words, to love unconditionally—since joy grows fuller by giving, rather than receiving. Luke writes: “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2.17-18) They couldn’t help themselves—keeping what they’d seen a secret would have killed their joy.
In the next few days, as we hustle to put finishing touches on our holiday, I pray we’ll carve out a quiet moment away from the Christmas claptrap to see the Christ Child, to allow the Life to appear, to look Love in the face. I pray we’ll experience a renewed rush of joy that turns festivity into fellowship, tradition into transcendence. Seeing Jesus in His Newborn glory drives love for all and brings joy to all. It changes us. It changes others. It changes everything.
Looking at Love. [Gerard von Honthorst: Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)]
(Tomorrow: The First of Millions)