Joy to the World: Part 2—A World of GRINDING POVERTY

Joy to the World!
How Can JESUS Be the JOY for THIS World?
A four-part Christmas series

Quick Overview of the “JOY” Series

The dictionary defines joy this way:

The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; a source, a cause, or a person of keen delight or greatly valued.

How about for the world at large? Can God’s eternal Son, coming in the flesh as humankind’s Redeemer, truly unleash in today’s world what the angels promised the shepherds would be a GREAT JOY?

I intend to answer that question with my four-part Christmas 2022 blog series. Together, we’ll confront four troubling realities in our generation that challenge the truths of the verses in the universally loved Christmas Carol “Joy to the World.”

Where are we headed? Here are the topics I’ll be exploring with the carol’s verses that apply to each one:

(1) A World of RISING SADNESS:
How Can Jesus Be the Joy HERE?
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
repeat the sounding joy . . .
How Can Jesus Be the Joy HERE?
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 . . .
How Can Jesus Be the Joy HERE?
He rules the world with truth and grace
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love . . .
How Can Jesus Be the Joy HERE?
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing . . .
This blog post explores Part 2: A World of GRINDING POVERTY.

Part 2
A World of

How Can Jesus Be the Joy HERE?
David Bryant

One of the things that never changes when Christmas celebrations roll around is this:

Billions of our fellow humans remain in abject poverty, including those living all around many Christians who are hanging their stockings “by the chimney with care” this year.

That being so, how do we dare sing about any joy for a world that suffers like that when we carol on Christmas Eve:

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 . . .

How do we Jesus followers find the courage to face this tragic reality? How do we deal with the troubling challenges it raises for us—especially during this festive season?

The sobering truth is that if we keep looking away from earth’s destitute peoples, we will eventually end up closing our eyes to the Master himself, who “for our sakes became poor that we through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, emphasis added).

The core of the Christmas message tells how fully the Lord Jesus “emptied himself and became a man” (Philippians 2:7)—how he left the glories of heaven and impoverished himself for the sake of all of us who are both physically and spiritually bankrupt.

This transaction is the one unshakable guarantee that there IS “joy to the world” for those crushed by destitute circumstances. It is the joy that overcomes the world! It is the joy that can transform and enrich ALL peoples. It is the joy that nothing can ever take away. It is the joy embodied in and unleashed by our risen, reigning Savior now!

Let me tell you about it.

Season’s GRIEVING:
Where there are more tears than joys

I’ve been in places of tears many times over the years. I’ve walked the streets of a few of the poorest communities in the world—such as the slums of Manila, Philippines; and Soweto, South Africa; and in Kolkata, India, with Mother Theresa, the missionary who said her life-calling was to the “poorest of the poor of the earth.” A couple of years ago, I visited the homes of families in the most ravaged parts of Mumbai, India, where the award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire was filmed.

But all these experiences barely scratch the surface of global poverty.

In his book The Rich and the Rest of Us, Yale professor Dr. Cornel West alerts us to where more tears than joy can be found this yuletide. For example:

  • Nearly one in two Americans now live in or near the official US poverty line. Almost a third are families with children that have fallen into hard times over the last five years.
  • About 90% of Americans have wages that are stagnant or receding (due to inflation).
  • Rising healthcare costs are currently bankrupting millions of our nation’s elderly folks.
  • As of 2020, 43% of the world’s people are barely surviving on $5.20 a day or less, with 24% forced to endure on around $3.00 a day. Nearly 700 million are considered in “extreme poverty.”
  • By 2030, an estimated 67% of the world’s poor will live in fragile contexts. About 70% of people older than 15 who live in extreme poverty have no schooling or only some basic education. Around 1.3 billion people in 107 developing countries live in multidimensional poverty, accounting for 22% of the world’s population.
  • Those in income poverty suffer many other kinds of destitution, some factors responsible for and some due to their condition. These include insufficient clean water and nutritious food; lack of basic healthcare; inequality or social injustice; conflict and instability; inadequate education; scarcity of jobs; poor government and infrastructure.
  • Add to this the growing existential threat of the climate crisis among hundreds of millions facing historic droughts destroying crops and cattle, which is their only source of income and survival.

How can the Christmas spirit abide for those who are forced to endure such suffering? How can Christmas remain a happy holiday for those who are aware of the grinding poverty of so many fellow humans? It would seem that weeping is a far more appropriate response than “joy to the world.”

Season’s GIVING:
The joy that supplants the tears

And yet, despite these dismal scenes, multitudes of Christians still light their candles as we proclaim this on December 25:

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 . . .

But how is that going to happen? The only permanent answer revolves around the Son who opened his earthly ministry declaring he had been “anointed to proclaim good news to the POOR” (Luke 4, emphasis added)—and then is replicated by those who are united to him in order to exalt him, serve him, become like him, and bring him to others, especially to those who are poor in spirit and earthly goods.

This Christmas, remember we are united to the one who confessed that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” as he ministered to the poor of his generation. We are alive in the one who promised, “Blessed are the destitute because the Kingdom of God is theirs. How blessed are the hungry now because they will be satisfied” (Luke 6).

The Lord of our lives claimed the primary proof that he was God’s Messiah—even above all of his phenomenal miracles—was that he ministered God’s saving grace to the poor all around him (Luke 7).

This means that our eternal destiny is tied up with the one who not only “for your sakes became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9), but to do so, he ended up being born in a stable and throughout his ministry had “no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58).

It was the Lord of all who commended an impoverished widow who chose even greater poverty for herself as she emptied her last two coins into the temple coffers. He said she had given far more than all the wealthy worshipers there that day (Luke 21).

The Lord Jesus Christ, Jehovah God in the flesh—like us, among us, with us, for us—fulfilled these words of Deuteronomy 15 and now calls us to join him: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.”

Our reigning Redeemer is the King who, at the climax of history, says he will welcome into his eternal dominion those who ministered to him when they ministered in his name to those who were hungry, thirsty, on the fringes, without shelter, plagued by sickness, or relegated to confinement in a dark prison (Matthew 25).

Everything about Jesus and his life-giving ministry swells with joy, specifically aimed at those who have been disinherited by the world. Wiping away all tears is not only his promise for us when he creates the new heaven and earth (Revelation 21) but for all who today find themselves, rich or poor, in Christ as new creations, where “the old has passed away, and everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5).

It was for this purpose that “God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3). Poverty is a form of dehumanizing perishing. Jesus came to replace all perishing—and all of its tears—with the “joy of our salvation” in him.

No wonder first-century Jesus follower James reminds all of us (James 2): “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” The apostle John similarly exhorted Christians under his care with these words in 1 John 3: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

In other words, in God’s grand plan for the ages, the poor are to have priority! That is so absolute that Jesus told a parable in which the great celebration feast in the Consummation ends up being attended by mostly what he terms the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lepers—the “least of these.”

Where’s the joy to the world? It comes to lost sinners like all of us because we are in the direst form of poverty of all—spiritual separation from God, relegated to “outer darkness” with nothing but emptiness of soul. But when we come to Jesus and give our lives to him, we become, as incredible as this sounds, “heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ” (Romans 8) with whom our Savior is ready to share riches that are not only glorious (Philippians 4) but also inexhaustible (Ephesians 3). THAT is true joy! And it is offered to the WHOLE world!

When Paul cries out at the end of 2 Corinthians 9 on behalf of all of us, “Thanks be to God for his incomparable gift,” he makes it clear that ALL God has for us is now wrapped up in the person of his dear Son, in whom all the hundreds of promises of God in Scripture have become ours through Jesus (2 Corinthians 1). As the influential Church father Augustine put it in the fourth century (emphasis added):

Those who have Christ have EVERYTHING.
Those who have everything but do not have Christ have NOTHING.
And those who have everything plus Christ
have NO MORE than those who have Christ ALONE.

Become a Christ-exalting “joy giver”
among the poor this Christmas!

Writing around 50 A.D. to the rather stingy, self-sufficient church in Corinth, Paul highlighted to them the generous attitude of the poverty-stricken Macedonian Christians to inspire the Corinthians to become generous to the poor in Jerusalem.

Even though those in the Macedonian church were barely scraping by themselves, they longed to minister to the believers in Jerusalem who were even worse off because they were undergoing a severe famine. What an amazing aspiration—coming from those with so little themselves yet filled with the joy of Christ to share with others!

So, Paul used the Macedonian Christians as an example to show what should be true of all believers—including you and me at this 2022 Christmastide (emphasis added):

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us . . .

Therefore, since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving . . . For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8).

That should inspire all of us, whether we are the poor or in a position to give to the poor. In the end, to be a “joy giver” is to be so empowered by God’s grace that we greatly exalt Christ by first giving ourselves to him in order then to minister to the poor in whatever ways God shows us.

How do we today become Christ-exalting joy givers to the poor starting this joyous season and on into the new year? Here are a few suggestions:

  • GIVE financially to ministries that directly serve the poor—such as the Salvation Army in this nation or World Vision to other nations—organizations that seek to meet both physical and spiritual needs in Jesus’ name.
  • TAKE PART in ministries reaching out to the poor locally. The church I attend does so in at least these ways: (1) by providing our church as a homeless shelter every month; (2) by forming teams to work with the “Relief Bus” among the poor in our town and in New York City; (3) by sending teams into the local maximum security prison to bless the inmates with the love and hope of Christ; (4) by sending a team to Malawi to work among the poor in Africa, providing them schools and occupational training from funds raised in the US.
  • PRAY for the poor whenever you see them. An Indian evangelist told me when I visited his country a few years back that there was no way his ministry—or even all the Christians in India—could begin to meet all the needs of the hundreds of millions in poverty in their land. But at the least, he said, we MUST pray for every poor person we meet, asking the Father to bring them into the joy of salvation in Christ and also to meet all their other needs. That is not only the least we can do but also the most important thing we can do!
  • JOIN CHRIST NOW to pray and work for an American CHRIST Awakening that will bring the people of God in our nation wholly alive to the whole Christ so fully that together, as a mighty army, millions of Jesus followers would unleash all the vast resources of the Christian movement in our land to bring the fullness of the blessings of Christ to the poor of our nation and beyond.

This Christmas, may we all resolve to make a difference in the way this hymn implores us:

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 . . .

About the Author

Over the past 45 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ Awakening movements. Order his widely read books at Enjoy his regular Daily CHRIST TODAY podcast.


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