For someone who doesn’t put much stock in sentimentality, I’m feeling pretty schmaltzy. I enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving afternoon with friends who are either retired missionaries or military. We spent much of our time over dinner asking each other questions and reminiscing about our pasts. I’m at home with my lighted artificial Christmas tree ready for decorating, but I’m waiting for one special little girl to help me. I did not have any particular Thanksgiving rituals and no Christmas whatsoever in my childhood. Today I saw the new Mr. Roger’s film “It’s a Beautiful Day,” but I had never seen his show as a child. So, unlike most of those watching, I wasn’t thinking back about my past during the film. But I did use some of Rogers’s articles in a teacher training program in Africa. I grew to appreciate his positive philosophy toward disciplining children. Rogers’s Christian faith may seem to be the foundation of his philosophy, but there is a crucial difference between his psychological perspective and biblical Christianity. Jesus is not sentimental; he is future-oriented—something Rogers sought to deemphasize in favor of the present.
The redeemed of God will be surrounded and crowned with joy and peace when sorrow and sighing flee away in the glorious future. “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10) “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12) These passages from the prophet Isaiah point to the truths that provide peace when our world crashes on us like mad waves in a turbulent sea. Christ has ransomed us—out of bondage with joy & peace. All of creation rejoices over Christ freeing believers in this life. Believers are surrounded and by joy and gladness, not only in the future but now, in this life.
The peace that the world tries to create or engender over Christmas is fake. Peace based on human goodness, possessions, or the emotional comfort of traditions only slightly approximates that which Christ offers. Even the picture in Isaiah, of the exiles coming out of Babylonian captivity with songs on their lips, falls short of the unimaginable joy that Christ’s transformed children experience through him. “The deliverance from the Babylonish kingdom was a type; when men “go out” of a state of bondage to sin, Satan, and the law; out of a state of darkness and ignorance; out of the pit of nature’s misery and distress; out of themselves and their own righteousness; out of their own sinful ways, and from among the men of the world…they go out freely, being led by the Spirit of God; who takes them by the hand as it were, and leads them in ways before unknown to them…all which is attended with “joy and peace”…finding themselves released from bondage, in a state of light and comfort, out of the horrible pit, and on a rock; brought to Christ, and clothed with his righteousness…” (1)
The singing of the ransomed in Isaiah 35:10 is coupled with a crown of everlasting joy. What a remarkable picture, since those who wear crowns, such as kings and princes, are unlikely to be singing. We would expect them to have heads held high, looking majestic and set apart from the masses. But here we have a family of God crowned with joy and singing as they come out of captivity. This picture of regenerated believers is precious, not just for our first days with Christ, but for all eternity. Our bodies age and refuse to maintain their elasticity. Our minds become filled with more and more worldly messages and influences. Our emotions suffer from losses, hurts, and disappointments. But our souls continue to sing; we have only to turn up the volume so that it becomes the strongest and loudest music in our lives. I usually have classical music playing while I study and write. But sometimes I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want the music playing when I am struggling with something when I feel distresses or under conviction, which is when I need that beautiful music the most. So I have learned to leave it on at those times and let it remind me of joy I have in my redemption. But there is no more beautiful music than that of gospel forgiveness, that moves us beyond mere quietness to biblical shalom—wellbeing of mind, soul, and heart.
Isaiah 35:10 goes on to say that “they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” We do not work ourselves into gospel joy but receive (obtain) it from God as a gift. When I spent taught young children and teachers of children I used beautifully wrapped empty boxes sometimes and plain brown paper bags other times, as an illustration of faith God gives us to believe in Christ. The happiness of the children in this symbolic game continues to remind me of the fact that the gladness that overcomes sorrow and sighing can only be found in Christ. Watching “It’s a Beautiful Day” two days after a funeral, with friends who have recently lost loved ones, was a delight for me. To share in something with them, knowing that our hearts are knit together in Christ—not because of the movie but because we wanted to be together, to strengthen our joy in Christ during a tough week. God’s loving election overcomes our grief and despair. Our peace is not by forgetting our beloved, who are with the Lord. We are joyful because we know that they are in the presence of the Lord, as are we. We will all be singing joyfully together in the new world he creates. This is the shalom I want over Christmas.
“In the resurrection [they] shall return from their dusty beds, and shall appear before God in Zion above; and ‘with songs’ to Father, Son, and Spirit, for what each have done for them, in election, redemption, and conversion; and for persevering grace…they shall then enter into joy, which will never end; there will be nothing to interrupt it to all eternity…there will be no more sin and unbelief, or any other corruption of nature; no more darkness and desertion; no more of any of Satan’s temptations; no more distresses, inward or outward; and so no more sighing within, nor sorrowing without; all tears will be wiped away.” (2) “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes…He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 7:17; 21:4)
When we are brought out of our dungeons of sin, all creation rejoices in the grace of Christ that will redeem it one day. “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12) If the mountains, hills, and trees are singing and clapping, how much more should our souls rejoice in gospel shalom? Not that we need to move through the holidays with a smile plastered on our faces or sing when we feel like crying. But deep in our beings, do we not have the peace of Christ soothing our sorrows? It’s not unusual for me to have to stop singing a hymn at church when I become overwhelmed with joy at the love of Christ evident in words. Is this not joy? I hope to encourage you to peacefully celebrate your present redemption and the future redemption of the world this Christmas. “Our joyful hopes and prospects of eternal life should swallow up all the sorrows and all the joys of this present time…Let us try ourselves by…questions, rather than spend time on things that may be curious and amusing, but are unprofitable.” (3) So here are some questions to consider: What is the loudest voice or music in your life—news, commercials, YouTube videos, movies? How can you turn up the volume of gospel joy? How do you experience and express the peace and joy of being ransomed from a life of sin? Do you view God’s creation and the innumerable ways that it is useful and good, as alive and joyful, or as dead and merely products to be manipulated? How might your view of it change if you think of creation rejoicing, especially in Christ’s future redemption? How might having everlasting joy help you to cope and appreciate your challenges now?
“Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:10-12a)
(1) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 35:10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-35.html
(3) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Isaiah 35:10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/isaiah-35.html
November 30, 2019