“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:8-11)
Joy! It seems like everybody is about a quart low on that in these troubling times. Christmas is supposed to be the ultimate opportunity to embrace the deepest sort of joy available to mankind.
A Savior, Christ the Lord, was born to us some two thousand years ago. The Word made flesh injected Himself into the world He created in order to redeem mankind from the curse of sin and to restore the intimate relationship we were meant to have together with God and each other.
Thankfully, God is patient with us and doesn’t want any of us to be lost. Yet, many of us seem to enjoy testing the limits of His mercy and grace. We find so many reasons why we should not be joyful. Usually, those reasons are blamed on somebody else: our boss, our kids, our spouse, annoying drivers, people who just don’t agree with us about politics and religion, or whatever. It’s almost like we would rather be angry than joyful. Sadly, too many of us become what I call “joy suckers.”
Unfortunately, joy suckers aren’t content to stay in their own dungeon of self-pity and general discontent. They want to spread their misery around to the rest of us. Discontent is a spiritual type of pandemic that is tragically infectious. Misery really does love company and appeals to anybody who has ever felt that they have been victimized by someone else. Joy suckers seem to feel a strong need to assign guilt to other people, dead or alive, for their less than perfect circumstances.
I don’t know about you, but I hate it when somebody tries to push my “guilt” buttons. You know what I’m talking about. There are people out there who want you to feel bad about yourself. They want to rub your nose in your own sense that somehow you have come up short and are therefore unworthy of even taking up space on this planet. These miserable “party poopers” are never satisfied until everyone has draped themselves with self-loathing and have given up hope that true joy is even attainable.
“Joy-sucking” is not just limited to outspoken unbelievers who have declared war on Evangelical Christianity. Too often, it can become a popular form of doctrine in the Church. Its main hypothesis is that if anyone is enjoying life too much, then they must be indulging in some sort of sin. This has to be true because, doggone it, God hates it when we have too much fun. Even Jesus, Himself, was confronted and criticized by the religious establishment for eating and drinking with low-life sinners.
Wait just a minute here! This sounds an awful lot like the original message which that serpent, the devil, brought to Adam and Eve while they were enjoying God’s perfect provision.
Satan’s name means “accuser.” He is the father of joy-suckers. He is the author of guilt. He had the audacity to accuse “Jehovah Jireh” (the Lord who provides) of being a power-hungry ogre who controls creation with a heavy hand and a frown.
Satan wants us to throw off the shackles of divine authority so that we can freely define what’s good and bad for ourselves. Unfortunately, a self-referential perspective turns out to be the real trap, rather than the means to freedom.
There is no such thing as subjective objectivity. God’s ways and thoughts are different from ours. His Word is the real truth. The serpent has truly deceived us. Furthermore, he has infected us with the same joy-sucking attitude that misdirected us in the first place.
We all too often take on a distorted image of an angry God by condemning the sin in other people. We feel compelled to deflect attention away from our own hidden bad attitude toward the Father and put it on the obvious shortcomings of others. This perhaps makes us seem more righteous, to ourselves anyway.
Consider the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31). The younger son left the security of his home to make a way for himself in a distant country. Free from the restraint of his father’s authority, he quickly squandered his wealth in wild living. He decided for himself what was good for him. He thought he would find joy in his freedom. Unfortunately, free choices always have consequences and repercussions that come with our choices. Soon the young man found himself in desperate straits, without resources, without dignity, and without friends.
Bad circumstances can often cause good thoughtful reflections. The kid came to his senses. He repented (changed his heart and mind) and decided to return home, fully prepared for whatever sort of demotion of status he might face.
The young man was not, however, prepared for the amazing grace response he received from his loving father. Father God sees us returning even when we are still a long way off. He meets us with compassionate affection and a desire to restore everything that was lost.
Even more, He wants to celebrate our return. Even angels in Heaven are rejoicing. It’s party time. There’s feasting, there’s music, and there’s even dancing. Now that puts a happy face on repentance!
Notice the attitude of the older brother in the story. He was just plain mad about the celebration. I’m not sure if he was angry with his brother, with his father, or with the fact that he never got to have his party, even though he had probably subdued his own secret desire for some of that wild living.
He complained that he had stayed, slaved, and never disobeyed, but was never rewarded. He was a victim. Being in his own father’s household didn’t seem to help him know his father’s heart any better than his wandering sibling knew it.
His attitude reflected a self-referential perspective that was religiously indignant and resentful that things had not gone his way. He wanted to put a guilt trip on both his brother and his father. His bad attitude and accusations were at attempt at sucking the joy out of this wonderful celebration.
I’m amazed that the father (like our God) seemed to ignore the older son’s ranting and raving. With the same loving compassion displayed to the younger brother, the father confirms his relationship to the elder. “My son, everything I have is yours, but we had to celebrate because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again, lost and now found.”
The Father wants us to celebrate redemption and reconciliation. He wants us to lay aside our so-called right to be offended by our brother and by Him, and to take on His joyful perspective.
Let us be done with joy-sucking guilt trips. Let us all come home and go inside for the party and celebrate the good news of great joy that our Heavenly Father has provided for all of us. Merry Christmas to one and all!
[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]