by Dr. John Yates
I have never felt happier with God than at this stage of my life and the abiding presence of his goodness is growing ever stronger. The root of these feelings stands in stark contrast to the spirit of the age and our contemporary Christian spirituality. My understanding about what is happening in me was helped by an expression of A.W.Tozer; “My plea is for a great seriousness which will put us in mood with the Son of Man and with the prophets and apostles, that we may attain that moral happiness which is one of the marks of spirituality.” Only a prophet could connect morality with happiness but Christmas is exactly the season to make such a connection.
Whether the greeting is the traditional “Merry Christmas” or the secularised “Happy Holidays” the festive season means maximised enjoyment for most Australians. It is all about having a good time. Yet something is not quite like it usually is. Gathering clouds are dulling the summer sunshine we intensely love. Economic news is gloomy, terrorism has invaded our own shores and murder and massacre in Pakistan, Nigeria and France challenges our drowsiness. The (alleged) murder of 7 children by their mother in Cairns is appalling and raises deep questions about the sanity of our world. The whirling of such troubles will either bring us closer to the Truth of Christmas or feed our cynicism about the goodness of God.
Human nature being what it is people will always choose what they believe is the very best for them, their “highest good”. When Paul remarks; “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”” (1 Cor 15:32) he is commenting on a society like ours where the highest good has become pleasurable experiences. Few Australians would question the assumption that we are entitled to be happy and everyone wants to feel good about themselves. Life’s quest has become maximising the good life from cradle to grave.
Even more troubling is the Christian form of this popular happiness, one that wants Christ’s cradle without his cross. This type of Christianity treats Jesus as a sort of consumable who exists to make our lives better and promises us more health and happiness in the daily affairs of life. The superficiality of this spirituality is exposed when our worldly affairs take a turn for the worse; “consumer confidence” = “faith” in these sorts of churches rises and falls with the doctor’s report and the stock market. This is vastly different to the life of God revealed in Jesus.
God’s Happy Goodness
God has been eternally happy because he has forever delighted in his own goodness. In this delightful goodness the world was created; “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good….rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of men.” (Gen 1:31; Prov 8:31). Whilst God’s own goodness is the very essence of his existence the fallible creation would soon become fallen. (Ps 136:1). The manifestation of the infinite goodness of God awaited the angelic declaration of the “good news to all mankind” of the incarnation and birth of his own Son (Luke 1:19; Luke 2:10). The rejoicing filling the atmosphere at the first Christmas beams out the reality that “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared” with the birth of Jesus (Tit 3:4). God’s own goodness is now in human form. When Christ came into the world the Father felt infinitely pleased in/with himself for this at last was his ultimate “good…and perfect gift” to the world (James 1:17). Christmas is the beginning of the gospel.
The final expression of God’s goodness is contained in the good news that God our Saviour who was born has suffered, died and rose again for us (1 Cor 15:1-4). The outcome of Jesus’ life, his indwelling the complete happiness of the Father, is the full and final evidence that “in everything God is working for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28; Heb 12:2). This is God’s own moral happiness. From first to last the Lord’s relationship with us is a good one; “The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us. God created us because He felt good in His heart and He redeemed us for the same reason.” (Tozer). These deep truths call us to re-examine our experience of the goodness of God.
The Mystery of Happiness
When Moses craved the presence of God and asked the LORD for a manifestation of his glory he received this reply ““I will make all my goodness pass before you”” (Ex 33:15, 18, 19). Those who would see the glory of God must seek his goodness. Through Jesus a revelation far greater than what has offered Moses has come to us (John 1:17). The angelic promise to Joseph was Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matt 1:23). The measure of this promised presence is not confined to the celebrations of Christmas Day; it is the promise of an abiding sense of the goodness of God. This constancy of God’s presence is independent on the circumstances of this world (2 Cor 12:10). As long as I take the “eyes of my heart” off myself and put them on to the final revelation of the Father’s goodness in Jesus all is well (Eph 1:18). This experience involves a deep mystery in Christ that is well summed up in the words of medieval mystic Julian of Norwich (Col 1:27). “The Goodness of God is the highest prayer, and it comes down to the lowest part of our need. It enlivens our soul and brings on it life… “. Let me try to interpret these words in a more openly Christ-centred way.
The incarnate Goodness of God came down to our lost nature in the birth of Jesus and enlivened our broken souls through his resurrection from the dead. As we rest in Jesus we know the abiding presence of the goodness of God; the fruit of such a spiritual presence is enduring happiness (John 15:4, 11). This is far far greater than “Christmas cheer”. Such an “uncontrollable happiness….sent men singing to prison and to death…” (Tozer cf. Acts 16:25). This happiness is an unconquerable share in the Father’s pleasure in his Son and it is the spiritual power of the presence of God a feeble Church and troubled nation needs today.
The Spirit of Christmas calls us to let go of the question, “Is God happy with me?” and to inquire, “Am I happy with God?” To approach this question in a Christ-centred way swells our hearts with a sense of the goodness of God and the moral happiness belonging to us in Jesus. Such unlimited goodness was first birthed for us over 2,000 years ago. It is the pleasure of the Father to share with us now a real measure of the unlimited moral happiness in which we will delight forever and ever. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, stop trying to work out whether God is happy with you and turn away from all elements of consumer Christianity. The Father’s happiness in “the man Christ Jesus” is his good gift to us (1 Tim 2:4). This is the true Christmas message.