Joy is one of the most common terms associated with our culture's current Christmas celebrations. More than a seasonal emotion, though, joy is God's gift to His people as we live in this fallen world. It goes far deeper than simple, momentary, transient feelings of happiness.
God's commands to the children of Israel included joy as an act of worship. As they celebrated the various feasts throughout the year, they were to “rejoice before the Lord” (Deuteronomy 16:11). Joy permeated their songs, which we have recorded in the book of Psalms. Even the prophets, who often delivered news of God's judgment, pointed to a coming time of rejoicing. These commands to rejoice were not given in a vacuum; remembering Who God is and what He had done should motivate them to express this joy in shouts of praise. Isaiah described it as putting on “the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
God doesn't stop there, though; what He commands and motivates, He also provides. His arrival, two thousand years ago, brought an overflowing joy to the angels and shepherds. In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus told us to rejoice if we were treated poorly for righteousness' sake, because our reward was yet to come. He also told His disciples that they should rejoice that their names were written in heaven more than for any earthly blessing. Paul continued this eternal perspective, encouraging the Roman church to rejoice in their salvation (Romans 5:11), and telling the church in Philippi – from prison – that they should rejoice in whatever circumstances come their way (Philippians 4:4-7). James took it a step further, telling his readers to consider it joy when they go through various trials (James 1:2-4).
Today, as we light the candle of joy, we rejoice that our Savior provides us with a reason to rejoice; and we look forward to the day when He returns to make our joy complete.