Tidings of Comfort and Joy




The words to the carol begin, “God rest you merry, gentlemen.” The comma goes after merry. The word “rest” is a verb and in the oldest use it means “make.” It is saying, “God make you merry, gentlemen (the general audience). God make you joyful, and let nothing you dismay – let nothing frighten or trouble you.

And then the narrator explains how God has had provided for their merriment and quieted their anxious souls. Remember, says the caroler, that Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day. To save us all from Satan’s power while we were gone astray. So, Christ has saved us from a fierce enemy, and from the fruit of our own folly.  The oldest versions then say, “this brings” or “which brings tidings of comfort of Joy.” Remembering what Christ has done for us brings news of comfort and joy.

The actual origins of this song are not known, and I can’t find anywhere that says if the writer developed it from scripture. But the main refrain of the song is extracted directly from Jeremiah 31:13, “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” Young women (same word in Hebrew as virgins) will dance and be glad. Why this? It is a symbol of hope – it’s why the “young” dance – because they represent anticipation of the future – anticipation dances when there is hope. Why hope? Because of what the Lord has done and promises to do. God says, “I will turn their mourning into gladness.” I will turn their sad song into a happy song. HOW? I will give them comfort and joy.

The first thing he gives is comfort. This is not just a hug and a “there, there.” The word carries the connotations of deep empathy – it sounds like the low-toned sigh of a caring adult quieting a troubled child. God says, “I will comfort you.” How? Immanuel. God with us. God saving us. Earlier, in v. 11, the prophet says the Lord will deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. God will comfort us by being bigger and truer and stronger than the things that trouble us, even and especially the things that are stronger than we are. He will be present: bringing down the noise, quieting the alarms, the voices, the pressures, the threats, the fears, anxieties, and un-ending expectations. He comforts us by confronting these things. Christ comforts us by His own victory over them.

The term Christus Victor refers to a Christian understanding of the atonement which views Christ’s death as the means by which the powers of evil, which held humankind under their dominion, were defeated. The idea is this: Christ is victor. Christ in his death and resurrection overcame the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection, those powers variously understood as the devil, sin, the law and its condemnation, and fear and anxiety and even death.”

Christus Victor is rooted in the Incarnation and how Christ entered into human misery and wickedness and thus redeemed it. The Christus Victor view of the Atonement is a drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers of darkness and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin. He redeems us from everything that was stronger than we were. He comforts us by His victory over all our fears.

His comfort precedes and produces joy. Comfort comes first because it is the voice of truth. It displaces lie and shadow and threat. Comfort settles the soul. It prepares the way for joy. Joy cannot long abide in the troubled soul. Without comfort, joy is temporary, elusive – crowded out. So, He comforts us – that He may cause us to have joy.

He would comfort your soul – that he may cause your joy. Where are you troubled? “Benign” things: Life? Work, family, finances? Or does fear, unrest, regret, or pain trouble your soul? Christ has overcome. He is truth. He is love. He is power and grace. He is stronger. He Is Immanuel.  God rest you merry, dear friend. Let nothing you dismay. He wants you to dance again. Tidings of comfort and joy indeed.

Thanks for reading; Merry Christmas,



Even Jesus needed a Joseph

nativity oil painting

Other than the Christ-child, who comes to mind when you think of the manger scene? Hey – you can even throw in the Magi’s visit and stick them next to the shepherds. Which of these characters is celebrated in song and story? Yup – pretty much everyone. Even that little kid with the snare drum (how’d he get here?) But wait a minute – who is that kind-faced gentleman hovering over Mary? He’s not really following the all-is-calm motif… he keeps doing things to make Mary comfortable and checking to see if the baby is okay and he REALLY gave the stare-down and third-degree to those shepherds before letting them in to see the baby. Who is THAT guy? That’d be Joseph. He didn’t get a song. But don’t you dare underestimate him. I think he’s pretty important. I think God thought Joseph was important. And, whether the babe in the manger knew it or not, even Jesus needed a Joseph.

A few long months before the events of this evening, Joseph got some pretty unexpected news on the way home from the carpentry shop. Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant (Matthew 1:18-25). Before they came together, she was found to be pregnant – by the Holy Spirit (at least that is what Mary claimed). But here is where we learn something about this unsung tradesman, he was just (righteous), and yet did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace. Justice, here, would have allowed, even required, for Joseph to give her a certificate of divorce, stating the reason, and then Mary would have been publically scorned, and then possibly, publically stoned (Duet. 22:22). But Joseph, who by all appearances was the one sinned against, chose NOT seek revenge. God didn’t have to intervene and stop Joseph from condemning Mary. Joseph himself chose to be merciful. There was plenty riding on how Joseph responded to Mary. Joseph chose mercy. Mercy persuaded judgment and gave birth to redemption.

Now, of course, an angel showed up to further encourage Joseph to stay on course, that all was as Mary said, and this child was of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph accepted the challenge. He knew what was coming. He knew what could be said about him, about his young betrothed bride, and about this mysterious child in her womb. But Joseph was no coward. He accepted his commission from Heaven to be the caretaker of this family. God trusted Joseph with the salvation of the planet.

We don’t know how long Joseph was with Jesus. We just don’t hear much more about Joseph after Jesus is 12. Somewhere it seems Joseph passed away before Jesus began his public ministry. But his contribution to Jesus’ life, I suspect, was not limited to being a tour-guide-to-Bethlehem. Having observed Joseph’s exceptional character and conduct, consider this: Where did Jesus first learn about mercy, kindness, loyalty, and trust? Where would Jesus’ little brother James learn that “mercy triumphs over judgment”? (James 2:13) Why do you think Jesus did what His mother wanted, even if it wasn’t on his schedule (John 2:1-11). How was it that Jesus knew that fathers knew how to give good gifts to their children? (Matthew 7:9-11) I think it was because Jesus had a Joseph. God chose Joseph just as much as He chose Mary. Jesus was divine, and studied the scriptures, but I believe he still learned plenty from His daddy. Even Jesus needed a Joseph.

Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas
~ Dav

Get A Big Tree


When I was a kid, for a few years I remember going to the Christmas tree “farm” and our family wandering around looking for the perfect tree to saw down and haul home. I remember the exhilarating desire to search for and select not only the most perfectly shaped tree, but a really big one. Without fail, my mom would decline my first few suggested trees, not because they were unattractive, but always for this one reason: they were just too big. She’d say that by the time we put it in a stand it would be taller than the ceiling.

But a big tree is what I wanted. A big tree it had to be. Why? Well, obviously because the bigger the tree the more presents, and bigger presents, would be under the tree. Clearly, the size of the tree determined the magnitude of gifts there-under. Clearly. So, we had to get a big tree.

Now, as I reflect upon my preadolescent reasoning, I know that my hope wasn’t really in the size of the tree. It was really about my confidence in the nature of my parents. I knew the size of their affection, and the joy of their generosity. Those great qualities inspired my hope for the good times wrapped under the tree. So, we had to get a big tree.

And, my friends, it is that same confidence in the profound goodness of God that inspired the Apostle Paul to pen one of the pinnacle promises in scripture, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28). If this promise is true, we had better get a big tree.

If God is causing all things to work together for our good, then there is going to be A LOT of good things under the tree. In fact, somehow, ALL THINGS will be under there: the good, the bad, the ugly, the bright, the dark, the sweet and the bitter, the calm and the storm, ups and downs, laughter and sorrows. All things. We better get a big tree.

All things are pressed into the service of God and packaged for our good. If all things are being worked out, worked together for my good by a loving and gracious God, then I had better get a big tree. Psalm 31:19, “Your goodness is so great! You have stored up great blessings for those who honor you!”

John Piper writes, “If you live inside this massive promise, your life is more solid and stable than Mount Everest. Nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls of Romans 8:28.”

This promise assures us that it is not just going to be okay, it is going to be good. There never has been and never will be a circumstance in your life where this promise is irrelevant. It is particularly powerful in times of challenge, heartache, setback or despair. It is NOT a proof-text to tell us “why bad things happen.” It does not suggest God is the author of calamity or hardship. It promises that God is too good to be overcome by any of it. It may not provide answers to our questions, but  it assures us of peace. Nothing will ever enter your experience as God’s child that, by God’s profound goodness, will not turn out to be a benefit for you. Get a big tree.

This promise assures you that God is FOR you. If we will believe this deeply, we will not only survive, but will thrive in the pressures and temptations of modern life. We can believe deeply that God almighty is taking every set back and and every discouragement and pressure and pain and stripping it of its destructive power and making it work for our good. Get a big tree.

We can know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. All things. All of them. Wow.

We better get a very big tree.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share.
~ Dav