This morning, before we finish our gathering together and head into this final week before Christmas, we will have an opportunity to declare in song that marvelous refrain…“Joy to the World, the Lord has come let earth receive her King.”
For there is a joy, a deep, divine joy that beckons our souls…and seeks to break forth at this time of year. So often this great joy can find itself clouded by the complexity of all our activity. I can think of the card sending, and the unfortunate women who in a last minute rush…brought a box of 50 identical cards with our bothering to read the verse, she quickly signed and addressed all but one. Several days after they had been mailed, she came across that one…”This card is just to say, a special gift is on the way.”
decorations…cousin…Leah and I…within a minutes time had a wonderful tree we both like…only to then end up inside the store in a battle over which color bulbs to put on the tree. Then of course there’s the gift shopping. The cartoon by Guindon that showed a warty lady shopper resting for a moment with her arms filled with packages. She is in the middle of a very busy department store filled with other Christmas shoppers and she is explaining the whole Christmas scene to her small son as follows: “No one is quite sure how Christmas worked out like this, dear. Theologians are working very, very hard on that question right now.”
…and finally relationships…one young girl, upon hearing about that first Christmas night and there being no room at the inn, simply muttered “It’s Josephs fault, he should have made reservations.”
So it is that the mayhem of activity and the memories of the past can compete with the joy at hand.
YET STILL OUR SOULS ARE STIRRED BY A DIVINE JOY THAT CANNOT BE SILENCED BY TIME, TRADITIONS, OR TROUBLES….AND AS THAT FIRST Christmas unwrapped this great joy, so we discover how to unwrap our own.
Luke 2:8-20 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to the, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with an angel, praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and see, which were just as they had been told.
At the heart of this eternal event was “GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY”…And if we reflect on this first encounter with Christmas, we find the essence of capturing that joy ourselves. 3 keys in particular have stood out to me as the keys to the joy of Christmas;…the JOY THAT IS IN THE BIRTH OF CHRIST JESUS.
1. RECOGNIZE THE NEED THAT SENT HIM
v.11 What did the angels bring as good news? “Today in the town of David a SAVIOR has been born to you.”…a SAVIOR How often our modern joy has been reduced, substituting a sentiment for a savior. (Wanting to rewrite heavens great work “Today a sentiment has been born to you.”)…but these SHEPHERDS could not miss it. For they were more than simply lowly, poor shepherds;
Shepherds were despised by the orthodox good people of the day. They were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they could not observe all the meticulous hand-washings and rules and regulations. Their flocks made far too constant demands on them; and so the orthodox looked down on them. It was to simple men of the fields that God’s message first came. They were sinners who had no doubt of their need; no opportunity for self righteousness. But these were in all likelihood very special shepherds. We have already seen how in the Temple, morning and evening, an unblemished lamb was offered as a sacrifice to God. To see that the supply of perfect offerings was always available the Temple authorities had their own private sheep flocks; and we know that these flock wee pastured near Bethlehem. It is most likely that these shepherds were in charge of the flocks from which the Temple offerings were chosen. They had birthed, raised, and cared for countless lambs taken for constant sacrifice. It is a lovely thought that the shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs were the first to see the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
How sober these shepherds must have been to the great cost of sin by the great cost of sacrifice.
GOD HAD BROUGHT THE JOY OF CHRISTMAS TO THOSE WHO RECOGNIZED ITS NEED MOST; AND UNDERSTOOD ITS COST….and clearly such sobriety, such recognition of need would be essential for every recipient of His Son, for all who would encounter Him. And so it was that God was raising another heralder of the Savior John the Baptist…one who came as a voice crying out in the wilderness saying “prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight your paths Repent…Reckon…”Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”…hardly a figure we associate with joy; but John was sent to prepare for the receiving of Christ not by condemning sinners (for we are already condemned); but by awakening the self righteous to their nee.
The self righteous religious and sentimentalist alike miss the joy that is at hand.
As the world stops to capture the joy that surround this season, what it covers up our sin and shame is what it misses…our forgiveness of sins, and freedom from shame.
To choose the sentiments without the savior;
the cradle without the cross;
the child without the Christ is to miss the first essential key to the joy of Christmas that is beckoning our souls. Heaven is inviting us to join the shepherds in RECOGNIZING THE NEED…THAT SENT CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD, AS A SACRIFICE FOR US….out of such recognition, we can secondly
2. REJOICE IN THE CELEBRATION THAT SURROUNDS HIM again v.10…The angels declare “Don’t be afraid” This is Good News of Great Joy. Not a time to retreat in fear but to rise up in celebration-in v.13-14 God releases before them the very reality of heaven “suddenly a company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” There is heaven’s great celebration of Christmas…and we’re called to join in. For every one to whom this glorious invasion first came is found rising up in celebration.
• MARY though she is found here in quiet reflection, she had earlier rejoiced. In fact she recites an entire song in chapter one which begins, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
• JOHN THE BAPTIST when his mother Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin…he leaps in the womb…he ready to celebrate with heaven (talk about party anxious!) AND THE SHEPHERDS DID AS WELL, for after finding the child v.20 describes them as glorifying and Upraising God.
WHAT DOES THIS TELL US ABOUT OUR OWN CELEBRATIONS? ARE OUR TRADITIONS A FITTING WAY TO EXPERIENCE THE JOY OF CHRISTMAS? If our decorations and dressing up compete with Christ then they serve us no good, but if they can be a part of celebrating with heaven they serve us well. Rather than scorning traditions, let us sanctify them; allowing them to serve heaven in our hearts.
(illustration) Leah and I prayed last night, prayed for all the elements that surround us…the lights…Jesus as a light of the world; shining in the darkness, a darkness which couldn’t over take Him. The decorations would remind us that Jesus lives in our home and it is his birthday. Gatherings and parties, they would glorify the sweet fellowship he has given us; the peace and joy of his presence.
The God who commissioned angels to roll back the night and release blazing light as a way of announcement; who set a special star in the heavens; who sent a celestial choir to sing before shepherds invites us to REJOICE IN THE CELEBRATION THAT SURROUNDS THIS DIVINE INVASION….and finally, as we share in heavens joy, we can
3. REVEAL THE NEWS THAT SHARES HIM WITH OTHERS again v10, this is good news of great joy for ALL PEOPLE. So it is the shepherd’s didn’t quench the joy with silence or secrecy. v.17 “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told to them about the child.” There lies our third key to capturing the joy of Christmas; that as we experience him, we would spread the word”. GK word used for “word” is “rhema”. ref. to more than the literal word, but the living word. Our experience of discovering Jesus is a living experience that can’t be contained; it’s alive and lives to be expressed (Christmas Eve story.)
Some may remember an experience I shared in our Vineyard Voice newsletter last year. “Here it is. Here is your Christmas” found it again as I wrapped gifts yesterday like many of you. Christmas is best experienced by being expressed. WILL WE EXPERIENCE THE DEEP, DIVINE JOY OF CHRISTMAS? AS SURELY AS THE SHEPHERDS THAT FIRST NIGHT!
For I believe this room is filled with angels right now and they are declaring the JOY OF HEAVEN ON EARTH. They are declaring a savior to all who recognize their need. They are calling us to rejoice in heavenly celebration, for that is what surrounds Him. And they are joining us in reveling this good news to all people.