December 5: Why Joy Is a Defiant Act

REVELATION 21:1–5

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

Consider This

The previous chapter ended with a call to spread joy, not fear, about the end of the world.

Joy? Yes . . . joy. Consider the song we sing as a Christmas carol, but is really an Advent anthem, “Joy to the World”:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

In this chapter, we see God’s future mission completion to redeem our mission failure: a new heaven and a new earth, with no more of the sorrow and pain of this world. That’s a reason to celebrate, right?

But what if there’s more going on than God calling for a cosmic do-over and replacing this world with a new one?

The late great Robert Mulholland wrote that the Greek word translated “new” here is kinos, which implies renewed, not brand new . . . a change in quality or essence, rather than something that never existed before.

In other words, maybe Jesus is not returning to wipe this world out in fire and violence, but instead to restore shalom. We translate that word “peace,” but this kind of peace is more than just the absence of conflict. It is understood as wholeness and well-being, the gift from God that was lost in Eden and recovered by the Prince of Peace.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

N. T. Wright says, “if God really does intend to redeem rather than reject his created world . . . we are faced with the question: what might it look like to celebrate that redemption, that healing and transformation, in the present, and thereby appropriately anticipate God’s final intention?”

If the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t good news for the future, then it isn’t good news for the present. Advent is about hearing the story from the future and allowing it to speak joy into the darkest places now.

And it can’t just be good news for me in my comfy, middle-class American life. The future has to be good news wherever there is darkness in the world. Advent is saying this world is not how it was supposed to be, and it’s not how it’s going to be.

Is the future good news for the city of Aleppo? For the daughter sitting next to her dying mother in hospice? For refugees forced from their homes and land? For the teenage girl trapped as a sex slave? For the lands decimated by consumption? For the father with depression trying every medication? For race relations? For the gunshot victim? For the pastor with a porn addiction?

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

I once heard U2’s Bono say that joy is a defiant act against our mortality. Let all the people say amen because this future is good news against the curse that brought death to us all. We can have joy in the middle of tragedy and darkness today because of what Advent is saying about tomorrow.

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders, of his love.

Christ was born. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!


. M. Robert Mulholland, Revelation: Holy Living in an Unholy World (Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1990), 315.
. Paul J. Achtemeier, general editor, The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996).
. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: Harper One, 2008), 212.
. “Bono Explains the Emotional Landscapes of ‘Songs of Experience,’” interview with Bill Flanagan on “Written in My Soul,” October 18, 2017, www.soundcloud.com/siriusxmentertainment/bono-explains-the-emotional-landscapes-of-songs-of-experience.
. Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World,” Public Domain.