2: 1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:1-14, NRSV)
Let us pray: God of glory, your splendor shines from a manger in Bethlehem, where the Light of the world is humbly born into the darkness of human night. Through the telling of the Christmas story, let our lives be caught up in the story of the Christ child, that we too might join shepherds and all the heavenly host in praising the coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.
The angel of the Lord boldly proclaims in verse 10:“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”
What is Joy? We talk about the joy of Christmas, and we hear about people who live joy-filled lives. We know that there are moments of joy even in the darkest of lives. We’ve seen them: video clips of joyous families welcoming loved ones home from war; the ecstatic joy in the Olympics when an athlete wins a gold medal; the eruption of laughter and tears and the outburst of joy at the birth of a child, or the joy of children on Christmas morning. Is this the sort of joy the angel is speaking of?
Well, bookstores remind us there is: The Joy of Cooking, The Joy of Living, The Joy of Sex, The Joy of Parenthood, The Joy of Painting, So, what is joy? Where does joy come from? Does joy come from something you have, or does joy come from something you do? Is joy a pursuit or a paradox, or worse, is joy an illusion? Is joy a fleeting moment or is joy a permanent state? What is joy?
We find joy in our spouses, our children, our homes, our jobs, our favorite sports teams. But the joy that angel of the Lord is speaking of is so much more than that. The angel of the Lord is speaking of great joy is not merely the squeals of delight of children when they open their gifts tomorrow morning, but this joy is a deep and solid confidence that is built on something firm, real and long lasting.
The angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds about this joy to come. The Shepherds hear this glorious promise from God that “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born a Savior.
But there is something that often prevents us from experiencing this deep, abiding joy. Perhaps it is that we hear the angel of the Lord’s promise with skeptical ears—because we know too much.
Apparently, there are two types of joy: internal joy and external joy. Internal joy comes from within, but external joy comes and goes with whatever is happening in our lives. It is external because it comes from outside of our selves. When our circumstances change in one direction, joy comes. When our fortune reverses, joy leaves. External Joy is fleeting.
But internal joy is different. The joy that lasts is not a fantasy that is out of touch with reality. This joy is not just giddy happiness but something much deeper and so much stronger. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul talks a lot about “joy” and rejoicing. His joy is more than the “I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything is going my way” kind of joy. You may remember that he was imprisoned for his faith. He even had joy when things were not going his way while he was in prison. The great theologian, Karl Barth, described joy this way, “Joy in this world is always in spite of something.” It is, as he put it, joy in a “defiant nevertheless” kind of way.
This joy is more than happiness because of good times. It’s joy in the face of, or joy in spite of the irritation, the disappointment, the frustration, and the aggravation of daily living. It is the kind of joy Henri Nouwen concludes, “That does not separate happy days from sad days, successful moments from moments of failure.” No, this joy is a divine gift that does not leave us during illness, grief, oppression, or persecution. This joy does not depend on the circumstances of our lives, or even on our momentary feelings. “The joy that lasts, that is not externally dependent, that is not dependent on the absence of sorrow and pain, the joy that lasts is rooted, grounded, cemented in the experience with God.
A God who is with us.
So what does joy look like, feel like, sound like?
I think Joy looks like this. A friend of mine loves the Christmas Eve service. He never misses it. He doesn’t love it because of the beauty of it or the music or the excitement of Christmas morning coming. He loves it because it had changed his life. My friend went through a really painful divorce. He had screwed up—made some bad choices and alienated everyone, especially his wife and kids and she finally had enough and filed for divorce. It was on Christmas Eve some 20 years ago that he found himself utterly alone, depressed and guilt ridden. He didn’t know where to turn. He said he felt like his life was falling apart. So that evening he made himself get dressed and go to the Christmas Eve service all by himself. He sat on the back row. Looking at all the families piled in together. But then something strange happened. Someone spoke to him and told him Merry Christmas. Someone else shook his hand and said good to see you. The music started “O Come all Ye Faithful. Joy to the World. O Little Town of Bethlehem.” “The scripture started settling on his heart. “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
He isn’t sure exactly when it happened, but he started feeling joy— not superficial, happy, joy, but deep abiding joy. Joy in spite of. Joy nevertheless. Joy. The joy that can only come from a tiny baby born in a manger.
My friend has never missed a Christmas Eve service since…and he will be there tonight. Just like you and just like me. He will hear those familiar carols, he will hear the words of Scripture, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” He will hold up his candle and sing silent night and yet again, it will be Christmas. And his heart and his soul just like yours and mine will be transformed and set free to face life without fear and live with joy.
Let us pray: Good and gracious God, on this holy night you gave us your Son, the Lord of the universe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, the Savior of all, lying in a manger. On this holy night draw us into the mystery of your love. Join our voices with the heavenly host that we may sing your glory on high. Give us a place among the shepherds that we may find the one for whom we have waited, Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen
The Reverend Dr. Ian Chapman “Don’t be Afraid” Program #3611 First broadcast December 20, 1992” http://www.30goodminutes.org/index.php/archives/23-member-archives/242-ian-chapman-program-3611