So some of you are thinking, “Frank, you’re a jerk, you know that? This is the Christmas season, and you’re ignoring the fact that the Angels we have heard on High sang Glo-o-o-ria in-ex-chel-sis-day-o. They were happy – John Piper would say they were happy. John Mark Reynolds would say they were happy. I’ll bet Frank Beckwith would say they were happy. You ‘say’ we Christians should be happy and not frowny-faced kill-joys at the Yuletide. Christmas is about happy! You’re off the chain, bro, to say that Christmas ought to be scarier than Halloween.”
Listen: there’s no question that the angels gave up a “Joy to the World! And Heaven and nature Sings!” to the Shepherds. No question. The matter is whether they were celebrating some sugar-and-cinnamon baked goods, or if they were celebrating something which requires a host angels — creatures the Bible calls “as a flame of fire” which are ministers to God — singing in a way which brings fear into the hearts of the first-century equivalent of cattle-herding cowboys.
There is joy at Christmas – holy, beautiful joy which ought to blow our pride and our smallness to pieces, and make us, as Paul wrote, even in a severe test of affliction coupled with extreme poverty, overflowing with a wealth of generosity. We ought to be people who are crazy about giving to others because of what we celebrate at Christmas.
But hear me: the joy comes not from mere emotional inflation, or from having a nice Christmas goose, or from having family together, or God forbid that is comes from being wealthy and warm. The joy comes from the fact that whatever happened on that silent night, it happened in the face of, and as a herald of, and as a direct purpose of the wrath of God.
If there is no wrath of God – if God is, Himself, (if you will excuse me for saying it) a jolly fat man with a sack of goodies He brings in a sort of random and sentimental way – then why ought we to have joy at Christmas? What is a “Merry Christmas” unless we understand that manger – that feeding trough which earlier in the day held dirty straw and cattle spittle, but now holds this child who draws men from the East with riches and hearts ready to worship – as the place where there is an answer to the problem man has in the face of the wrath of God?
The joy at Christmas is only as great as the wrath of God which is about to be laid out. It is not because we got something we didn’t expect: it is because, in this child — who ought to have his enemies as a footstool and the Earth as His throne, but who is instead obedient and willing to be born in the midst of barnyard smells and the flies — we receive something we could not, and can not, and did not, and do not, deserve.