Summary: What do those angels mean when the announce "great joy?" Joy as a gift from God.
The Gift of Life (Therefore Joy)
December 14/15, 2002
I remember it clearly. Our elder’s board was gathered for a one-day retreat focussed on setting goals for our church. We began by sharing what some of our personal goals were for the next year, and one of our Elders made a statement that sticks with me still. He had some career goals, some personal goals, but the one that sticks out to me most was this: he said, “My goal is to live with joy.” To live with joy – it stands out still to me as an excellent goal.
On this the third Sunday of Advent, we pause to reflect on the theme of joy. We prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Lord by thinking about the angel’s words to the shepherds: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, 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.” (Lk 2:9-11).
“Good news of great joy.” That was the announcement the angel made to the shepherds. That was the message they came to bring.
I don’t know exactly how you imagine this scene in your mind, but to me the feeling I get is that all of heaven can no longer contain the joy – they just can’t keep it to themselves – and so it almost explodes out into the place where God has allowed it, into the middle of a field of shepherds.
Do you recall the last time you had good news to share? Maybe it was a raise or a promotion, maybe a good result from an exam, maybe an announcement that you are getting married or that you are going to have a child. Do you remember how you just couldn’t wait to get home, to find that friend or loved one, and blurt out the good news? You burst through the door, a big grin on your face, and you said: “guess what!...” And you made the announcement. That is what I picture the angels doing here – bursting forth onto the shepherds scene with this incredible announcement. “Good news of great joy.”
What’s so “good” about the news?
Through this advent season, we’ve been reflecting on the gifts that God has given us through His Son. First was the gift of Hope – of the Hope of God with us. Last week we talked about the gift of Peace which comes from forgiveness. Today I want to talk about the gift of Joy – joy that comes from Life.
Because really, that is what the angel announced – new life. On one level, new human life in the form of a baby boy born in Bethlehem. But on a much larger level, the announcement is about eternal life – “A Savior has been born – the Messiah is come!”
And that, it occurs to me, is where our joy comes from. It comes from the life of God in us, filling us, flowing through us. It comes from the Holy Spirit indwelling us and bearing fruit in us. The gift of life – new life, eternal life, God-with-us life – is the source of joy.
What exactly does Joy look like:
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve acknowleged that our lives here are not always easy. We recognize the struggles, the difficulties, the pain. Sometimes we even feel that pain more acutely during the Christmas season. We see that we need the Hope of God with Us because we can’t face life – and we certainly can’t face death – without God. We see that we need to experience God’s forgiveness, and that we need to forgive others, if we are ever going to experience the peace God wants us to know. So in the midst of all that we face in our world that is hard, where does joy fit in? Is it the end result – after we’ve forgiven, after we’ve walked through the difficult times with the Hope of God With Us – is that when/where the joy fits in?? Is it something we just look forward to heaven for???
Absolutely not. In fact, when the Apostle Paul is listing the things that the Holy Spirit produces in us, which he describes as “fruit”, joy is second on the list. Gal. 5:22 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY…” So obviously God’s desire for us is that we live in joy today. How do we reconcile that with a difficult world?
First, let’s be clear about the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a feeling – it is an emotional response to an external set of circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, is an attitude. It is a gift from God through His Holy Spirit. We are not happy about a lot of things in life – none of the challenges and pains make us happy. We can, however, face those things with joy.