Image from pixy.org [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]
In my last post we discussed St. Paul’s inspiring joy that he experiences in captivity. This is a distinctly Christian joy of Paul that is different from the other joys that we feel in life with foods, books, movies, and even loved ones because while earthly joys can come and go, since all of the earthly goods at which we rejoice can come and go, Christian joy is not fleeting, as this is a joy that is rooted in Christ and the salvation that He brings.
And so regardless of whether imprisoned or sailing the seas, Paul can always have this Christian joy because he can always have his Lord and Savior. Christianity thus “supernaturalizes” joy, if you will—we are no longer simply joyful at possessing a particular good, such as a movie or a book, but rather because of and in Christ we are always joyful, regardless of the situation, because we have the good of Christ crucified and His victory over Satan, sin, and death. Such joy is characteristic of the Christian life because the Christian can always be joyful, as we have Him Who brings us into right relationship with the Triune God.
Christ, the source of our joy
Of course, Paul recognizes that this can be a hard life, full of pain and suffering, and so it is not that Christian joy is easy, never to be challenged. Paul himself has to repent of his former murderous life and is eventually stoned, scourged, punched, rejected, bitten by a snake, shipwrecked, and stranded. If anybody knows that life is not easy it is St. Paul, who also needs reassurance from Christ at times throughout his ministry in order to persist.
But the point is that we have a joy that endures, that always wins, since even in the midst of pain and suffering, one can still be in covenant relationship with the Triune God through the Incarnate Lord. And how could we not rejoice at such a gift?! As Paul writes in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me”—Paul can endure the extremes of earthly life, from peace and prosperity to affliction and destitution, precisely because the source of his strength is not himself, but Jesus, Who enables Paul to accept all things by living detached from this earthly world.
And so although Paul is in captivity, he has been touched by God’s grace, so what is there to not rejoice in with the cross of Christ, amidst pain and suffering, deprived of earthly goods? We must always rejoice that salvation from Satan, sin, and death is at hand for the faithful!
True joy of Christmas
As the Apostle John writes,
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life: For the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father, and hath appeared to us: That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you, that you may rejoice, and your joy may be full” —1 John 1:1-4.
We have eternal life, fellowship with the Triune God in Christ Jesus, so what is there not to rejoice at? And it all starts, of course, with the humble birth of the Messiah, the Crib and the Cross being the two greatest manifestations of the love of God for us. And this is the true joy of Christmas!