Joy to the Bibleless
As Christians around the world wait for Christmas, we're focusing on communities and language groups who are still waiting for the Bible in their own languages - 1 billion bibleless people.
Christian traditions which use Advent candles this week lit the third candle to symbolize joy. The third candle is sometimes rose-colored and reminds us of the joy of the shepherds upon hearing the angels' announcement that Christ had been born.
You're probably familiar with several Christmas songs centered on the joy of Jesus' birth. As part of the fruit of the Spirit, joy seems to be a common reaction to hearing the good news of God's Word. Some biblical examples are Jethro (Moses' father-in-law), the Psalmist meditating on God's law, Mary after hearing about God's plans for her, Elizabeth's entire neighborhood, and the early church in Antioch.
Most of these biblical people were believers in God already and rejoiced when they heard about something God had done for them or their communities. It isn't just knowledge of God and his goodness that produces rejoicing - it is what God has done for them personally.
Joy to the Bibleless
For many people groups, a Bible translation is the first time they hear what God has done for them in their heart language. And that is deeply impactful.
For a community I worked with in Nigeria, the lead translator told me that any time he brings newly translated portions of Scripture to church, "They will dance!" Many of these people have been Christians for generations, yet hearing what God has done in their own language causes so much joy that they can't stay still!
Half a world away, a translation team in the Asian Islands was working on crafting bible stories to tell to their language group with no Bible translation - not one verse yet in their language. Though these believers are familiar with the stories of Jesus in the local trade language, they were overjoyed to be telling them to each other in their own heart language. They immediately began video-recording each other and posting the stories to social media saying, "We need to tell these stories to the rest of our friends!!" Their joy just couldn't be kept to themselves.
Another translation worker in a related language group was also profoundly moved by hearing the stories of Jesus in her heart language. She struggled to put what she was feeling into English to tell us. "Hearing these stories today, they... they are catching my heart!"
Joy to the World
Did you know that the most familiar Christmas song about joy was not actually written to be sung at Christmas? Sir Isaac Watts wrote Joy to the World about Christ's second coming, not his first (check out TGC's discussion of its history).
Bible translation advocacy groups often point out that while most Christians await Jesus' second coming, much of the world still hasn't heard about his first. I would add that many believers around the world have heard the story, but not in a way that "catches their hearts," that is, not in their heart language.
And translation aims to change that. Whether the joy of hearing what God has done inspires songs, dance, or frenzied video posting, let there be joy! Joy in every language. Joy to the world!