December 22, 2014

Joy to the World

If you have heard the Christmas story your whole life, as I have, you might think, as I did, that you have considered almost every aspect of the Nativity. Nevertheless, I requested a review copy of the new book, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does), published by Image books. I figured that if anyone would have new insights or a fresh perspective into this vital, 2,000-year old story, it would be Bible scholar, Christian author, former pastor, Catholic theologian, and university professor Scott Hahn.

From the first chapter “A Light Goes On in Bethlehem,” we receive this insightful light:

The Christmas story has an unconventional hero – not a warrior, not a worldly conqueror, not an individual at all, but rather a family…. We see the swaddling bands and know they’re for a baby, but someone had to do the swaddling…. We hear tell of the manger-crib where he lay, but someone needed to place him there…. The family is the key to Christmas. The family is the key to Christianity....

That, indeed, is one of the most profound implications of the Christmas story: that God had made his dwelling place among men, women, and children, and he called them – he calls us – to become his family, his holy household.

Today, many people have no family. Many, including children in this country, have no home. They’re homeless, lonely, and alone.

Without Christ, the world was a joyless place; and anyplace where he remains unknown and unaccepted is a joyless place. Everything has changed since Christ’s birth, but everything remains to be changed, as people come to receive the child in faith.”

With the joy of Christ in the world, no one needs to be without home or family. In the church, we can find loving, forgiving fellowship with one another as the Family of God. We can be grafted into Jesus’ family tree.

As Dr. Hahn points out, “The New Testament begins not with a discourse or a prophecy, not with theology or law, but with a simple declaration of family relationships.”

So the book of Matthew begins with a genealogy or, in Greek, a geneseos, which gives the root for genes, genetics, genomes, or generations and can be translated as “beginning” or “origin.” Therefore, “…the evangelist was suggesting a new Genesis, an account of the new creation brought about by Jesus Christ.” Likewise, “In the fourth Gospel, Saint John accomplishes something similar when he begins by echoing the first words of the Torah: ‘In the beginning’.”

In the book of Luke, we get Mary’s perspective and Jesus’ family line going back to Adam to show how Christ came for everyone. Matthew, however, wants to show his Jewish readers how they’re connected to Christ through their family heritage, and so his long list of begats begins with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people.

As the roll draws to its close, however, it identifies Joseph not as a father, but as ‘the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born who is called Christ’.” Dr. Hahn goes on to say, this “final link breaks with the preceding pattern. Joseph is not called father, but spouse. The evangelist wants to be perfectly clear that Joseph had no biological role to play in the conception of Jesus.

When time came for the infant to be born, what a birth announcement! One angel visited the shepherds, as messengers from God often did in Old Testament Times, calming fears and announcing Good News. But this time, a multitude of heavenly hosts then appeared, singing “Glory to God in the highest,” and lighting up the whole sky with angels!

Later, when the magi visited the Holy Family, Matthew 2:10 reports, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Dr. Hahn then asks us to “linger on that single line. For it captures the very moment when God gave ‘Joy to the World’ – not merely to Israel, but to the whole world: the nations, the foreigners, the Gentiles.”

In the Family of God, the church Body of Christ, love holds us together, and joy radiates from the center. Or, as Dr. Hahn says:

If we truly celebrate Christmas, we’ll exude a joy that people will want to share.”

To be realistic, though, “there are those who would steal our joy by trying to steal our Christmas – by snickering at the lot of it: the Trinity, the virginal conception, the incarnation, the shepherds. How should we respond? By inviting them to the feast. By enjoying the feast ourselves, and by enjoying it for all of its infinite worth.”


May your Christ-mass be filled with love and overflow with joy, joy, joy in Jesus’ Name.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler is an ecumenical Christian poet, writer, and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.

Note from Mary: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review, but you can order it from Amazon.

Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does), hardback

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