Part 2: Joy
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ”Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” (Luke 2:8-14)
Anguish and Anxiety at Advent?
For some people, Christmas is a difficult time. Many are filled with anxiety as the demands of the season compound the difficulties confronting their worried hearts. These worries can be about anything from balancing family pressures, to providing meaningful gifts with limited amounts of money, and many other things. Others are overwhelmed with sorrow as they remember the loss of, or separation from loved ones. Too often Christmas increases the ache of loneliness and despair.
The announcement of the very first Christmas created negative emotions in the hearts of the shepherds. They were afraid. Trepidation threated to overwhelm them when they encountered the messengers heralding the birth of Christ. As the message those angels announced sank in, however, the fear of the shepherds gave way to joy. We can know the joy that was theirs by understanding the message they heard.
Can the angelic good news of great joy move us from the pain of sorrow and worry to the heights of joyfulness? I believe it can. Let me suggest three things about their message that should lift our spirits.
Peace with God
First, the message is one of a Savior who brings peace between God and men. In our world all sorts of urgencies crowd out the important. At this time of the year any number of frantic thoughts threaten to crowd our harried minds: The memory of my dead loved one is too painful for me to enjoy Christmas. I can’t enjoy this season when I’m single and all my friends are married. What can I get my wife that she will really like?
When such thinking floods our minds we are making Christmas about ourselves and our enjoyment and—in the process—losing real joy. It is not wrong to be sad over the loss of a loved one. It is not wrong to want to be married. You should try to get your wife a gift she’ll like (and I think I have!). But none of those things drive the joy of Christmas.
If you want to be full of joy this Christmas you need to know that the one thing you truly need is a Savior. You need someone who can forgive you for everything you’ve ever done wrong. You need someone to empower you to grow in righteousness. That savior exists, and on December 25th we get to celebrate the day he was born. When you understand that, you can have joy this Christmas even if it is hard-won through suffering.
Second, the message is one of a God who keeps his promises. This passage in Luke is rich in the fulfillment of God’s promises. We are told that the Messiah will be born in the city of David. God promised that David’s son would come as a Savior (2 Sam 7:13) and that he would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David (Mic 5:2). Luke puts the promise-keeping nature of our God front and center. This is a big deal.
Have you ever lived or worked with someone who doesn’t do what they say they’ll do? Have you ever known someone who does what they say, but at a different time or in a different way than they said? I have. When you’re in a relationship with someone like this it is frustrating at best, and heartbreaking at worst.
Christmas reminds us that God does what he says, the way he says, how he says, and even where he says. God is your savior; he is also the savior he promised to be. When you’re tempted to be distracted with seasonal circumstances this year, try meditating on the timeless trustworthiness of your savior God to find joy.
Good News for Everyone—Even You
Third, the message is one that is for all the people. The angels announced that the good news of great joy would be for all the people. They meant it, too. Consider two things in the passage.
First, the angels made their announcement to shepherds. Shepherds were a despised class in the ancient world. Considered dirty and dishonest their testimony was not even acceptable in legal proceedings. Yet God gave one of the first announcements of his Son’s birth to that lowly group.
Second, the God of the universe was wrapped in rags and laid in something that animals eat out of. Think of how shocking this is. In Great Britain, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge recently celebrated the birth of their son, the heir to the throne of England. Imagine wrapping such nobility in rugged cloth and placing him in a feeding trough. It would never happen.
Now consider God the Son, the King of the entire cosmos, the maker and sustainer of all that is. When he was born he eschewed the finery of a palace for the humility of swaddling cloths and a manger. The point: Jesus is the high King of heaven who associates with the lowly.
You know what that means? It means if you’re feeling lowly this Christmas Jesus came to be your savior.
Joy in Christ
I know the holidays can be hard. I’ve had a few rough ones myself. I know the pain of having Christmas night be filled with awful memories of terrible things. I know what it is to feel the sting of a loss during that first Christmas without the one you love so much. As one who has gone through it myself, I’d like to share something with you if you’re struggling this year.
Don’t make Christmas about you. Don’t make it about your memories, and what you want, and what—or who—you don’t have. Christmas is too big and too important to reduce it to you.
Make Christmas about Jesus Christ. Make it about it the day that God kept His promise and sent a Savior who was for all the people. If you can turn your eyes upon that Christ you’ll know joy this Christmas even if you’re alone, even if you’re in pain, and even if you’re wife doesn’t like her gift.