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Review: “Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does)”


Image Books

Chris Sparks - published on 12/18/14

Dr. Scott Hahn's latest book digs into the inner meaning of Christmas.

It’s all well and good to talk about putting Christ back in Christmas—but it helps if you know what Christmas really means in the first place.

Dr. Scott Hahn sets out to explain in Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does). The noted Biblical scholar and popular evangelist draws from a kaleidoscopic array of Scripture, Tradition, and modern scholarship (especially the works of Pope Benedict XVI) to make plain the inner meaning of Christmas.

And, as you might expect of a holiday celebrating the moment when God almighty was born into the world as a Baby, it has something to do with family. "The family is the key to Christmas," explains Dr. Hahn. "The family is the key to Christianity." Much of his analysis will be familiar to long-time fans of Hahn’s work, drawing on a number of recurring themes and images:

    •    the covenant as the key hermeneutic tool for understanding all of salvation history and Scripture
    •    covenants create familial relationships
    •    the Holy Family is an icon of the Trinity
    •    Jesus is the fulfillment of a long line of covenants between God and His creatures

Don’t get me wrong—every one of those points is of world-changing importance and demands a book all its own. But Hahn has written those books, and written them well. Say, then, that what he’s done with Joy to the World is take a number of familiar themes and arranged them around the Holy Family in Bethlehem like a theological Nativity.

Though the Holy Family is the locus for the book (and the holiday), there are other families involved here, from the great family of Israel, to the even greater family of the whole human race, to the eternal Family of the Trinity. Dr. Hahn moves at a measured, meditative pace throughout the major players and moments in the drama of the coming of Christ, exploring the coming of Christ as the fulfillment of the messianic expectations of the Chosen People, as well as the reward for the watchful curiosity of Gentiles who looked for the arrival of a world-transforming King of the Jews.

Giving a chapter to each person of the Holy Family, Herod, the shepherds, the magi, and the angels, Hahn situates them all in their proper places in prophetic expectation and fulfillment. Leaving no typology untraced or Old Testamental indication unexamined, Dr. Hahn draws the reader into a contemplative study of the meaning and miracles of Christmas, all through the lens of the family.

We walk alongside Mary, then Joseph, as they play their parts in the Christmas drama, the coming of Christ into the world. We discover how the shepherds represent one of the most ancient occupations of the people of Israel, and the Magi from the East stand in for the highest wisdom of the world. We learn how the cross cast a shadow back on Christ’s cradle, and how Christmas explains the interactions between angels and humans in the New Testament, so different from their interactions in the Old. We get to see the deeper significance of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, when the eternal High Priest (and the perfect Temple of the Living God) come in obedience to the Law to be consecrated to God for all eternity. We get to hear which prophecies from the Old Testament would have caused the Edomite king of the Jews to seek the life of the newborn King of the Jews.

We get to watch, in other words, as a great scholar and extraordinarily well read exegete shines a light on the Nativity for us, probing the scene, guiding us along the path with the major players, discussing motivation, a lot of backstory, and the ages to follow.

Dr. Hahn concludes the text with a ringing reaffirmation of the Christian difference, the ways in which the ancient faith that "Jesus is Lord" depends upon Christmas and touches every part of our lives (and lives to come). Throughout the work, he is a gentle, humorous guide to the Christmas mystery: that God became man and dwelt among us; that the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Joy to the World is a rich source of Advent meditation, Christmas celebration, and an explanation of why it matters that Jesus Christ was born into this world at all. Indeed, it explains why we celebrate Christmas so vigorously and so well, even delving into some of the classic expressions of Christmas cheer to discern their roots in the theology of the Incarnation.

Accessible, deeply rewarding, this book will be of interest to those looking to discover the true reason for the season: not just Jesus, but the whole Mystical Body of Christ; not just the Head of the Church, but the whole family of God, growing like a mighty tree from the grace erupting into time from eternity at the Incarnation, at Christmas, when unto us a Child is born.

Chris Sparks is a writer and works for the Association of Marian Helpers.

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