It’s not uncommon to wonder whether an advertiser’s claims about a product can really be trusted. In a discussion about whether a product was likely to be as effective as the advertisers claimed, I had made a comment that went something like, “Well, it sounds good, but you won’t know until you try it yourself whether it’s going to perform up to snuff.” The comment came to mind again recently, and it occurred to me that I’ve used that expression at various points for as long as I can remember and never once questioned why I would choose such a phrase or what it really meant. I had heard about “snuff,” of course, but I never tried it myself. On the subject of snuff, I was woefully ignorant and uninitiated. Yet in spite of such ignorance, there I was, using the term as though I had some personal understanding of its meaning.
An Odd Reminder ~
Most of our younger population probably wouldn’t even know what “snuff” is, much less what it means to perform “up to” it. Oddly enough, I thought about my use of the term as I watched a group of people on TV singing “Joy to the World” recently. I wondered whether I might be witnessing another demonstration of how easy it is to adopt terms for which we may not have any personal reference and about which we may know little or nothing. “Joy,” for instance, is such an easy, pleasant sounding, term, and especially familiar this time of year. We spell it out in lights, print it on cards, sing it in carols, incorporate it into our greetings, and mention it in our prayers. It certainly sounds more appealing than singing about “snuff,” yet there’s a real possibility that we could be just as far from personal contact with its original intent as most of us are from understanding where the term “up to snuff” actually came from.
I mention all that for at least two reasons. First, the element of joy has a much higher place on God’s list of Christmas priorities than we might think, and secondly, His definition of the term might not coincide with ours. “Joy” as God sees it is prominent among those qualities that He has always wanted to be characteristic of His people. It was highlighted in the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth, because He is the ultimate expression of what the term means to God, and if joy was an important element in God’s approach to that first Christmas, maybe we ought to consider it in ours.
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 (NKJV)
Not Everyone Is Singing ~
As our cultural and traditional Christmas season unfolds every year, we almost always have a moment or two in the process to realize that not everyone is singing “Joy to the World.” Many, perhaps most, are not enjoying lights and tinsel and feasting on holiday treats. Some are grieving terrible losses, others are suffering painful wounds, feeling rejected and alone, and many have little or no money to buy gifts–or even food. So if the angel said that there was to be “great joy” that would be extended to “all people,” just how are those people supposed to get in on it?
The Most Important Question ~
There are fascinating issues to explore about “how” Jesus came, but the great question of Christmas is not “how” He came, but “why.” He came to bring the greatest good news imaginable to those most desperately in need of it. He came to offer joy to those so far from it that, to them, it would seem incomprehensible. If we want to know what that joy feels like, maybe we shouldn’t just pop in at the office Christmas party and ask if everyone is having a good time.
If we want to know what Jesus intended joy to feel like, maybe we should visit a funeral chapel and ask a lonely, grieving widow how she would feel if she had a chance to embrace the love of her life again in a body free of pain and defects. Or maybe we could visit a wounded warrior in rehab and ask him or her how it would feel to have legs again, and live where wars don’t happen anymore. We could stand by a couple hopelessly watching their child suffering in pain and ask what it would feel like to see their little one whole again and alive forever. We could listen to the sobs of some forgotten soul crying, alone and hungry in some homeless shelter and ask how he would feel to have a mansion where gold is used for building materials, and where no one is poor, or homeless, or hungry, and where no one will ever be alone or forgotten again.
God’s Kind of Joy ~
Want to know what God’s kind of joy feels like? Ask the man born blind how it felt when light filled his eyes for the first time. Ask the outcast lepers what it felt like to be clean. Ask the brokenhearted, grieving mother what she felt when her dead son opened his eyes again. Ask Barabbas how he felt as he watched a cross built for him laid on the shoulder of the One who would die in his place.
Or maybe the best way to experience God’s kind of Christmas joy is to take an honest look in the mirror and ask how it would feel to stand in judgment with no defense before One who knows every lie, every deception, every violated boundary, every act or thought of sexual misconduct, and every proud, rebellious, or dishonest word or deed. Then remember why He came and the cross where He paid the price for all we did. He came for the broken, the helpless, the hopeless, the forgotten, the outcast, and the ruined — and He came for you. He came for me.
Yes, we can celebrate Christmas without thinking about any of that. We can have Santa Claus and reindeer, and sing “Joy to the World” with hardly a thought about why, or for whom, Jesus came. But if we ask God what He thinks about a Christmas like that, He might say… “Not even close to being ‘up to snuff’.”
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “Jesus came to bring the greatest good news imaginable to those most desperately in need of it. He came to offer JOY to those so far from it that, to them, it would seem incomprehensible.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Want to know what God’s kind of joy feels like? Ask the man born blind how it felt when light filled his eyes for the first time. Ask Barabbas as he watched a cross built for him being laid on the shoulder of the One who would die in his place.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The best way to experience God’s kind of Christmas joy … Take an honest look at how it would feel to stand in judgment with no defense before One who knows every lie, every deception, every violated boundary. Then remember why He came.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)