23 December 2012
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 "Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (or "toward men of goodwill")
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Christmas is almost here and we are coming to the final Sunday of Advent. This Sunday we will be highlighting the theme: Joy
My problem with most definitions of joy is it just sounds like a synonym for happy. To me joy is something more permanent, and less circumstantial than happy. Our joy comes from the unshakable love that God has shown to his redeemed. Joy is knowing what I have in Christ and what that meant to God. Joy is unaffected by a bad day at work, slow traffic or even an argument at home, because the scripture clearly teaches that nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39)
So Joy is an emotion and may feel similar to happiness, but it is also something much deeper than happiness. Discuss for a few moments the things that make us happy. Sometimes these are the greater things in life: God's love and provision, our spouses and children, etc. However, sometimes we are happy when the Cowboys win or when we are watching a comedy on TV. There is a great gulf between these two types of emotions. As we discuss Joy this morning we need to make sure that we are not equating the happiness that comes from temporary things with that which comes from long term and eternal things.
In fact, there are two words for happiness in the Greek language: eudaimonia and makarios. The first is simply defined as "to be happy or fortunate." The second is defined as, "blessed, fortunate, a privileged recipient of divine favor" (Bauer). Both of the terms are appropriate emotions and are similar in concept, but it is the second one that presents us with the deeper expression of happiness more related to joy.
We also must recognize that this type of Joy is also existent even in the midst of suffering. This is a more mature manifestation of Joy, but it nevertheless is true. It is found in instances where we can rejoice in sadness. For instance when we have to say goodbye to a loved one as they go to be with God we rejoice even though their departing grieves our souls. Joy still exists in this instance when happiness may not.
We must be clear about what joy truly is, in order for us to have the appropriate emotion of Joy this Christmas season. Our text this morning shows us the way in which Joy comes to us and goes out from us because of the Christ-child.
Joy Comes from God
When we think about true joy we must understand its origins. Just like love first comes to us and then from us to others so it is with Joy. It comes to us through the gospel message, through God's own desire for us, and then multiplies in this world. In this passage we see this through the declaration of the Angels, "And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy.'" The joy that comes to all of us is always coming from God to us. In this passage it is a direct message from God's messengers (Angles) to his people. In our time it comes in a variety of ways, but always through revelation, both generally and specially.
This revelation comes through general means. That is, God has revealed himself through our world, and as such invites us to rejoice in Him for how he has created. The most obvious illustration of this is when one goes to the mountains. When you visit the mountains, especially the grand ones, you see the beauty of creation. There is all kinds of vegetation with its variegated colors; there are formations in the rocks, and rivers and water falls; there are all sorts of animals that are quite majestic (e.g. bears, elks, etc.). Often times when people visit the mountains they claim that they get closer to God. This is in part due to the revealing of God's person in the creation He has made. This is the truth of the psalmist when he states, "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps 19:1). All around us God has left His imprint upon us, and when we notice that imprint there is something in us that makes us joyful and thankful.
God, however, also reveals Himself to us through His Word, the Bible. When we read the Bible we have God specially coming to us. As we read this text about God specially visiting these shepherds we also can know that through the reading of the story we too are receiving the same message from God. It is as if He is saying to us, "Fear not," as much as the shepherds receive it. When we read the Word of God we receive God's Word for us. It should revive us and fill us with Joy because we are in the presence of God. There is no book like the Bible where we find "new" things every time we read it. This is because it is God revealing Himself to us and as such it fills us with Joy. Psalm 19:7 is an example of the way in which Scripture works, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple."
Both general and special revelation should fill us with Joy. Discuss with your class times that they were joyful because of noticing God's work in the world and their lives through Scripture or through creation.
Joy Comes through Different Sources
In this passage we also see that his Joy that comes from the Lord is often coming to us through different sources. Particularly here we see is coming through the shepherds. These men were not the elite of society, nor were they well off. There have been many allusions to modern day shepherds, but we can easily say that these were simple, blue collar men. Nothing to take too much notice of as far as the world thinks, but the chosen one's to whom God chose to proclaim the message of the birth of Jesus Christ.
It is quite appropriate for us to think about the seemingly odd choice of the ones chosen to first hear of then proclaim the coming of the Lord. Though we could provide many allusions to David and Christ being Shepherds and the role of a Shepherd in the church, we must not miss that "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor 1:27). Often times we place ourselves in the judgment seat and think that we have everything figured out. We decide what is appropriate or not in the world, but God has a way of turning that upside down on us. The gospel message has ever been that "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35). It is quite fitting for God to use Shepherds as heralds and fishermen as teachers. This fits with His plan of always showing that He is the one who wills and works all things, so that we should not boast.
In our lives we often marginalize certain people. Perhaps we do this through racism, or social class prejudices. We determine if someone is too poor or too rich for us to talk to and work with. Perhaps we do it through ageism wherein certain ages are inappropriate for certain tasks. At some point or another we all fail at this. What we must recognize is that the work of God, which brings unceasing Joy, is accomplished through odd means at times, through a diversity of sources. We must ever be cognizant of God's diverse work so that we do not miss the Joy that He is providing for His people.
Discuss with your class instances where they have seen God work through the most unusual persons to accomplish His work.
Joy Comes to Everyone
In this text we also see that the Joy of the Christmas message comes to everyone. Notice how this Joy comes, "that will be to all people" (Luke 2:10). The coming of Christ and the Joy that accompanies His coming is purposed for all. This means it has no limits to it. This might seem like a very simple point to make about Christmas, but it is one that we must not neglect. Think of it this way, when we are going about our world this time of year we can say, "Merry Christmas" to all that we come across. When we do so we mean that we are conveying the gospel message, "Merry Christmas, Christ has come to save us all. He has saved me and He can save you." This is an important part of the Joy of Christmas is that its scope is not intended just for Christians. It is for all people, it is what makes Christmas more joyous. Though we can have a great many sayings this "holiday season" (e.g. Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays), we can know when we say Merry Christmas it is for all people whether they want to believe it or not. In some sense we are saying, "God loves you, isn't that great." They may replay, "But I don't care that God loves me." And our response is, "Well He loves you anyway." This is the Joy of Christmas in that it is for all people. Remember Romans 5:8 ""while we were still sinners, Christ died for us", also means that before we knew what God was doing, the savior was born for us.
When we ponder what Christ has done for us we are reminded of the Joy of the Lord in our hearts. Though we have trying times, the thought that Jesus saves, or that we are friends and children of God through Him, should lighten our days. These thoughts should help us press through the trials God has given us. This is all because of the Joy that has come to all through Jesus Christ.
Discuss with your class how the Christmas story, or the gospel message, has brought Joy in times when they really needed it.
Joy Leads to Praise
Finally, we see that the coming of Joy to us through the coming of Jesus to us is responded with the praise of His creation to Him. In this short text we see quite a few responses. First, we see the response of the Angels, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:14). Though these heavenly beings are somewhat of an enigma to us, we realize that they too are creations of God and are subservient to Him. Furthermore, they are not partakers of the sin nature in need of salvation, but understand the great love of God given to humanity through Jesus Christ and can do nothing but praise God. Second, we see the response of the Shepherds. "When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.' And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger" (Luke 2:15-16). Notice that the shepherds quickly conferred with one another this miraculous heralding and then, with haste, made straight away to find the baby. Then they went our from there to praise God everywhere they went for they knew the Messiah had arrived. Finally, we see Mary's response. This woman had been through so much already, but she still marveled at what was happening through her, "But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Mary took notice of her surroundings and the events unfolding within her life to remember the greatness of God's love for her and for humanity through Jesus Christ.
These are the response of the Joy of Christmas. The Joy comes to us and then we can do nothing but sing praises, tell all we come across the gospel, and remember the goodness of God in our lives. These are the practices of Joy for the Christian. They are simple: praise God, tell others, remember. Discuss with your class how they have used the Christmas message to praise, tell, or simply remember, and then how it led to Joy in their lives.