Jesus came to save a dark and sinful world, but it was a world that thought itself glorious. And, to a certain extent, that glory was not a sham. The Lord Himself was tempted by it, when the glory of all the world’s kingdoms was paraded before Him by the devil.
The world was grimy in the sight of God, but shiny and bright in its own eyes. This means that Jesus came to save us, not only from our sins, but also from our righteousness. Salvation from open sin was the comparatively easy part—persuading the prostitutes and tax collectors that they were sinful was a straightforward thing. But getting the message across to the theological hair-splitters was quite another thing.
We are declaring joy to the world. The greatest enemy to this hot joy from heaven is the cold and grim joy of self-righteousness. The two are mortal enemies, and can never be reconciled. The message of Christmas is that God has sent His Son to become mortal, so that He, the perfect, sinless one, might die a criminal’s death, consigned to a wooden cross by the most respectable men alive. And there, to the end of the world, the gospel will tell us all that this event saved us all—the day when self-righteousness killed righteousness.
And in the wisdom of God, it was also the day when righteousness killed self-righteousness. This is the foundation of every possible joy, the only possible joy. This is the goodness of God, lavishly bestowed.