Summary of Joy to the World by Scott Hahn

Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still 
Does), Scott Hahn, Image Publishing, New York, 2014.
Chapter 1: A Light Goes On in Bethlehem

The family is the key to understanding Christmas. The Christmas event is God inviting us into His family so that the joy of Christmas belongs to us.

“The Christmas story has an unconventional hero – not a warrior, not a worldly conqueror, not an individual at all, but rather a family” (8).

“Everything has changed since Christ’s birth, and yet everything remains to be changed, as people come to receive the child in faith” (11).

Chapter 2: What Happens in Bethlehem…

What happened in Bethlehem didn’t stay in Bethlehem. The real historical story of Christmas, told with hallmark simplicity and understatement, became our family history, “carefully kept and passed down in the household we call the Church, to bring joy to every generation” (21).

“Though the Gospel is certainly rich in allegorical meaning, it is first of all history. If there is allegory in the infancy narratives, it is fashioned by God, and not simply with words, but rather with creation itself – with the very deeds of sacred history. God writes the world the way human authors write words” (20).

Chapter 3: A New Genesis

The New Testament begins with “a simple declaration of family relationships (see Mt 1:1)” (23), establishing the true identity of Jesus primarily through his family relations, “suggesting a new Genesis, an account of the new creation brought about by Jesus Christ” (24).

“In the opening lines of the first Gospel, Matthew prepares the way for a radical rethinking of family relations. The King, the Messiah, the Saviour arrived as a son – as expected – but, in doing so he revolutionized our very ideas of sonship and fatherhood and motherhood and family” (33).

“Both [Matthew and Luke] succeeded is establishing Jesus’s identity, and they did so by establishing his family relations. He is King and Messiah. He is High Priest and Redeemer of Israel. He is the agent of a new creation. He is all this because he is, first of all, the Son” (38).

Chapter 4: The Counterfeit Kingdom

At the time of Christ’s coming, the whole world seemed to expect that the Messiah would arrive – from Herod the Great’s sadistically cruel attempt to reign as the Son of David to the hopes that Caesar Augustus would reign as the god of peace.

“It was almost as if the whole world sensed, but dimly, that it was reaching a climactic moment in history. It was almost as if people were already seeking an explanation for an event that was inevitable” (46).

Chapter 5: Mary: Cause of our Joy

“If we want to know the Blessed Virgin as she truly is, we must come to see her as she was – before anyone knew the magnitude of her glory – as she grew to maturity in the dusty village of Nazareth” (50).

“Catholic theolgoy insists that grace builds upon nature. The God who created us is the same God who redeemed and calls us. And so it is not at all fanciful for us to see Mary’s Magnificat as a window into her upbringing. Her ancestor King David was a shepherd of sheep before he became a shepherd of Israel. Mary’s fidelity, her knowledge of the history of Israel, her faithfulness to the law of Moses, her reverence for the Temple, her habits of prayer, praise, and gratitude – all of these are a tribute to her family of origin and a childhood spent in the courts of the Lord” (64).

Chapter 6: Silent Knight, Holy Knight

The New Testament begins by telling the events of salvation history from Joseph’s point of view. Although we do not have any recorded words from Joseph, Joseph the Silent’s actions speak volumes. As a “just man” (Mt 1:19), Joseph’s profound humility and reverence for God and for Mary must have led him to consider himself as unworthy to be part of God’s work with Mary. Nevertheless, the angel intervenes and Joseph remains truly a husband of Mary and truly a father to Jesus.

“Not even the most prolific author in all of history can claim to have had such influence – to have influenced God himself. And yet, we possess not a word that we can call Saint Joseph’s” (68).

“Joseph’s vocation is to be an earthly image of Jesus’s heavenly Father. God is more Father than any man on earth, though he fathers without gender, without a body, without sexual organs or a sexual act, and without a spouse. God’s fatherhood is perfect, so we know that fatherhood is not primarily physical, but rather spiritual. The fatherhood of Joseph is spiritual and real, though virginal, just as the fatherhood of God is spiritual and nonphysical. Saint Joseph serves, then, as an icon of God the Father, and even Jesus would have thought of him in that way” (70-71).

Chapter 7: Angels: Echoing their Joyous Strains

“Christmas appears in the Gospels as an explosion of angelic activity” (86). Hahn speculates that this might be due to their foreknowledge of God’s incarnation during their testing before the world began (Hebrews 1:6 and Revelation 12 point to this mystery).

Christmas definitively changes how we interact with humans and the Holy Family models this by actively responding to their “guidance, protection, prayer, wisdom, promptings” (94) as friends and members of the Church.

“The angelic dimension of Christmas is not confined to the event or to the season. What happened in Bethlehem didn’t stay in Bethlehem. It changed the world. It changed history. It changed the very structure of the cosmos” (91).

Chapter 8: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Although the village had declined from a prosperous walled city in David’s childhood to a sleepy little town in Jesus’ time, “there was indeed a riot of anxious expectations in first-century Palestine” (97) that a Messiah would arise from Bethlehem.

“If the early Church thought of Jesus in terms of Davidic messianism – and it certainly did – it was not because of anything he said or did but because of who he was and where he came from. And he came from Bethlehem” (106, quoting Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, OP, “Where was Jesus Born?” in Bible Review, Feb 2000, 54).

Chapter 9: Do You Believe in Magi? 

The Magi were enormously influential astronomers who closely tracked the movements of heavenly bodies – the relative position of stars, the phases of the moon – and claimed to read them as omens of earthly events (108).

Although the Jews had held the Magi in contempt as idolatrous deceivers, the Magi we meet in the Gospels seem to be “humble seekers [of the truth] and virtuous men” (111, see Mt 2:8) who experience the very moment when God gave “Joy to the World” (111, see Mt 2:10).

The Magi brought: (1) Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. “We can see in this moment a transfer of high-priestly authority to its rightful place, with Israel’s King Messiah, the Son of David” (113). (2) “Themselves, as representatives of all the Gentiles” (114). (3) “The whole cosmos, which they had striven to understand and had mistakenly worshipped” (114).

“So there was a mutual repulsion between the Magi and the Jews – yet there was also a mutual attraction. If Jews had never felt drawn to the wisdom of the Persians, there would have been no need for warnings in the Bible and the Talmud. As for the Magi themselves: if they had never been tempted to know the God of Israel, why were they watching the sky for signs of a divine “King of the Jews”? (109)

“The visit of the Magi is a brief episode in the Christmas story, but we cannot exaggerate its importance. It signals the salvation of the whole world and the restoration of the cosmic order, which had been disturbed with the fall of humanity and the angels” (114).

Chapter 10: Shepherds, Why this Jubilee? 

Although poor and outcast, the shepherds “appear as models of joyful evangelization” (125) in announcing the coming of the Good Shepherd.

“Jesus is a king far greater than Herod or Augustus. Yet he did not build a palace in Jerusalem; instead, he made his dwelling in a humble cave. He chose humble shepherds, as his first courtiers” (126).

Chapter 11: The Glory of Your People: The Presentation

On the 8th day, perhaps at the synagogue in Bethlehem, Jesus was circumcised.

“Christians have always seen this moment as an anticipation of Jesus’s crucifixion. It was the first shedding of his blood, whose value was infinite. Because of Jesus’s perfection, this rite by itself possessed power enough to redeem the world; yet he pressed on to a more perfect fulfillment and more complete self-giving. To his own law he would be obedient – “obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8) (128)… Blood was rightly considered a life force (see Lev 17:11). As such it was – like life itself – a gift from God. It was said to “defile” a body the way the scrolls of Scripture (according to the ancient rabbis) “defiled” the hands that touched them. Human beings who have contact with the holy are made profoundly aware of their unworthiness (see Dan 8:17-18, Luke 5:8).

On the 40th day, in Jerusalem, Jesus was “presented” and Mary was “purified” in the Temple. Since Jesus was “a holy firstborn Israelite with a natural priestly status” (130), he did not need to be redeemed from service to the Lord. Instead, he was consecrated as a firstborn for his role as the rightful High Priest. In turn, since Mary was “full of grace” and did not need to be cleansed from sin, she submitted to the law out of humility acknowledging the divine gift of grace.

“Purification at once acknowledges the holiness of the vessel and renews that holiness so that it can once again carry out God’s sacred purposes. After the vessels are purified, they may be used again by the priests in the sacred liturgy of the Temple; after 40 days, the woman’s body is purified so she can be united with her husband in marital communion” (133).

Chapter 12: Flight into Joy

Christmas is “the feast whose biblical backstory involves the most mileage” (135).

“For the Israelites, Egypt came to represent hell on earth, so for the early Christians the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt appears as a “harrowing of hell” – a foreshadowing of what Jesus would accomplish when he opened the gates of heaven to those who had long been dead” (142).

Chapter 13: Blessed Trinities: Heaven and the Holy Family

Christmas reveals the mystery of salvation by way of the family – the Holy Family – an icon of the Trinitarian family in heaven.

“Christmas is an effusion in time of the love that is eternal – an icon on earth of the love at the heart of heaven” (148).

“We may say that the Holy Family was a trinity on earth which in a certain way represented the Blessed Trinity itself” (153, St. Francis de Sales, Discourses, 19).

“The human family, in a certain sense, is an icon of the Trinity, because of its interpersonal love and the fruitfulness of this love” (154, Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, Dec 27, 2009).

Chapter 14: Joy to the World

The joy of Christmas is the reason God created the world and the key to the new evangelization. We need ongoing re-evangelization and conversion of heart to share the joy of Christmas ever anew.

“Christmas shines uniquely in the world as a beacon of true love. Only Christianity can trace the genealogy of love back infinitely to eternity” (163).

“Christmas makes us different. Christmas sets us apart. Christmas calls us to share in divine love – and then to share that love with an unbelieving world” (163).


  1. Gregory Smith says:

    Well, someone read it! $850 well spent, then!

    Blessings for 2018.


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