On the night when Christ was born, an angel appeared to some shepherds (who were frightened; in contrast to the traditional imagery of cuddly cherubs, Scripture usually shows angels arousing fear in people). The angel’s purpose was to tell them of the Saviour’s birth nearby, but he and his colleagues also emphasized two results of Christ’s coming: joy (“I bring you good news of a great joy,” Luke 2:10) and peace (“… on earth peace among men,” Luke 2:14). Later in his life Jesus and his apostles made it quite clear that their understanding of joy and peace was not the same as the world’s. During the season when reference to the angelic announcement is encountered on every hand, we do well to remind ourselves of what the Bible has to say about joy and peace.

To the non-Christian, the presence of joy and peace require the absence of sorrow and suffering. Yet Paul could write: “I rejoice in my sufferings” (Col. 1:24), and Peter could tell ordinary Christians to “rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Pet. 4:13). The writer to the Hebrews could refer to his immature readers as those who “joyfully accepted the plunder of your property” (10:34), and he immediately gives the basis on which such unworldly joy could exist: “since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Because they evaluated everything from the perspective of eternity, the disciples could be “filled with joy” even though persecution was driving them out (Acts 13:50, 51).

Jesus said: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). ...

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