Words are the secret of Christmas. Even more important than the gifts we purchase, and the packages we wrap, are the letters we write, and the syllables we mouth. And once you discover the secret, you might even spend less time sweating what to buy, and give more energy to crafting what to say.
Jesus’s own words are what would make us pause and ponder the power of words at Christmas, and all year long. In John 15:11, he says to his followers,
“I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
It’s one thing to feel happy for a fleeting moment. It’s quite another to have Jesus’s own joy burning inside of you — to not only taste joy, but experience fullness of joy. How does that happen? How does Jesus’s own delight — dwelling in him, empowering him, filling his own soul — become ours? How does his own happiness come to dwell in and empower and fill us?
The answer, he says, is the wonder of words. Words are God’s vessel for passing joy from one soul to another.
Jesus’s Own Joy in Us
Our lives are awash in words. We encounter (and produce) literally tens of thousands of them every day. We’re prone to take their function and power for granted, when we should regularly marvel. Jesus’s own joy in us through words! How can we not exclaim with John Wesley, “Oh, give me that Book”?
And Jesus has more to say. In John 17:13, he turns to his Father and prays about his disciples,
“Now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
Jesus said what he did in the world to be captured and preserved for us in the Gospels, not just that we would have joy, but that his own joy in his Father might be in us. It’s almost too precious to say. If Jesus himself had not said it, we would not presume to walk on such holy ground.
But Jesus means to share his own joy with us. And he does so through words. He designs that his followers hear and receive his words, and feed their souls on them, like the prophet Jeremiah, and taste them as their joy and delight (Jeremiah 15:16).
And in doing so, Jesus models for us how we can pass his joy on to others, at Christmas and year-round. As joy fills and expands in a soul, it rises to the level of expression. The voice box sounds, the lips and teeth form invisible words, which pass through the air and then into these open holes in the sides of our head called ears. Invisible words pass into the open receptacles, and down into our souls, and one person’s joy feeds another’s. Not just from Jesus to us, but from others to us — and from us to others. All through words.
“Magic” Words of Joy
If we weren’t so familiar with words, and were to learn about their power for the first time, it might all sound like magic. You mean someone with a full heart of priceless joy in God can exhale, sound and shape these invisible vessels of joy (which pass through the air, into my head, and down into my soul), and by faith give me real and lasting joy? Yes, it is amazing.
And it gets even better. As we draw from a full tank of joy, to transmit into words our joy to fill another’s tank, our own joy doesn’t go down but up! “Praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment,” as C.S. Lewis famously said.
When we stay quiet about what makes us happiest, we don’t preserve our happiness. Hearts don’t stay full by keeping the lid on them. Our joy dwindles when we stay quiet. But when our joy inspires us to expend energy to express it in understandable words — which can be hard work — our joy actually ripens, deepens, expands, and “completes the enjoyment.” Giving ourselves to the effort it takes to carefully say it (or write it) both sweetens our delight and makes it more contagious. Others can share in it when they hear about it.
Which makes us want to tell others not just that we’re happy but why. What is the fuel on our fire? Instead of just saying, “I’m happy,” say instead, “Messiah has come.” Instead of just saying, “I’m hopeful,” say why you have hope. Instead of just saying, “Jesus is my treasure,” say what specifically makes him feel so valuable.
God’s Own Joy in His Word
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that words hold such power — not just for spreading discontent and ruining Christmas, but also for passing joy and making it what it is.
After all, when God himself reaches into our world, in human language, to communicate to us a vital aspect of his relationship with his Son, he calls him “the Word” (John 1:1). God’s Word in Jesus to us is so rich and deep and full and personal, that it is not just a word-thing, but he is a Word-person. God has spoken to us, not just through prophets and apostles, but “by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2). Jesus’s person and work is the very embodiment and climactic expression of what God has to say to humanity — and the grace, and joy, he has to offer.
In his first advent, the Word became flesh that the very joy of God — eternal, indomitable, unassailable, unshakable — might become our joy. That Word, his words, and our words about him are the greatest gifts of Christmas. Let’s learn the secret. Even more valuable than anything we can wrap in paper is the joy we can capture in words, whether spoken or written, to help fill others with the sweetest delight a soul can taste: Jesus’s own fullness of joy.