“Good News of Great Joy”

Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2003

 

Finally--it's Christmas Eve.  The moment we've been waiting for all through advent, for on this night we celebrate the night long ago when the prophecy of old became the reality announced to the shepherds by God’s heavenly messenger, "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."  

What better word is there to hear on Christmas Eve than the word joy and what better word is there to describe the good news that the angel brings than the word joy.  It will be the word that will resonant in our liturgy and music tonight reminding us that the birth of our Lord Jesus was an event of God's amazing grace on a universal scale. 

It was an event that was not just for some people, but for all the people, in fact for the whole world.  For in Jesus Christ, the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, bringing salvation to all who confess Jesus is Lord.  What better news could there be for a broken and darkened world than to hear that God’s light had come.  Truly, this is a time to rejoice in celebration of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Tonight, we lit the joy candle in our Advent wreath and we heard the words of what this candle means for us.  It is the joy candle that reminds us of the everlasting joy we have in Jesus Christ.  How true these words are for us.  In Jesus Christ we can and do have everlasting joy, a joy which surpasses all understanding, a joy which lifts us up and directs our thoughts and actions, and reminds of the bigger picture of God’s presence and actions in our lives.   

However, we know that we still live in dangerous times, in a time and in a world that is still filled with sorrow and grief, with things that are not as they are supposed to be, in a creation that still waits for the day of fulfillment when all things will be made new.  The event that took place 2000 years ago in a small town of Bethlehem did not happen in a vacuum, but in the real world with real Emperors and governors who ruled with iron fists and military might; in a real world where an unmarried, pregnant teenager could not find a comfortable place to have her child; in a real world with real people who longed for the day when the Messiah would come to bring deliverance and redemption.

          We all know that the feeling of joy can be a fleeting emotion, even at Christmas time.  Even though our lives are full of joyous occasions like our wedding day or the birth of our child, we also know that our lives also have its fair share of pain and heartache, some more than we can bear.  We are not naïve about the world in which we live.  The joy of the world comes and goes as we live through our experiences of life.  One moment we can feel like we are on top of the world, and the next moment we can feel like we are just trying to keep our head above the water.  Long lines at the grocery store, the anxiety of Christmas shopping, and the stress of trying to figure out which in-laws we’re going to visit over Christmas pushes some of us to the limit of the joy we are supposed to be feeling during this time. 

And yet we know that for others, the long lines at the food banks and mission shelters, the anxiety of trying to buy gifts when there is not enough money to even pay the bills, and the stress that comes from the fog of war, makes it awfully hard to even believe joy exists at all, let alone God.

          Oh, how we need to hear the words from God’s messenger who brings the good news of great joy to remind us that the joy of the world is not the same thing as the joy that comes to the world.  Too many of us spend too much of our lives searching for the joy that the world gives only to be disappointed that it does not last, rather than looking to the joy that is not of this world, that comes not from us, but from the grace of God in Jesus Christ. 

          We need to hear these words to remind us not to become a people numbed and indifferent about the presence and action of God in our lives.  In the birth of Jesus Christ, God has done the unexpected.  In a world that has gone astray, in a world where people get caught up in the mundane of life, embattled by the toils, tribulations, and sorrows of the human condition, narrowly focused on the realities of the present, the good news of great joy is like a light shining in the darkness, a radiant light of a joy that knows no bounds, a joy that can only come from the One, who brings with him, not only hope, peace, joy, and love, but also reconciliation, freedom, redemption, and eternal life.  

          Oh, how we need to hear the words of God’s Word that the good news of great joy has come to the world.  We need to hear that the joy, which comes from God in Jesus Christ, is more than a fleeting mood or emotion, it is an understanding and a stability despite life’s inconsistencies that allows believers to see beyond any particular event to the sovereign Lord who stands above all events, to the work of God in all of creation, in every time and in every place. 

Even though we stand at the threshold of this age and the age to come, we still stand in the threshold, with our feet firmly planted in the here and now, in the tension of being in the already, but not yet.  We will continue to worry.  We will continue to be anxious and stressed, and we will continue to experience the greatest joys of the world as well as its greatest sorrows, pains, and brokenness. 

          Two weeks ago, I went to the funeral of a 4yo son of a police officer.  I sat in the pew, looking at the small casket, unable to even possibly imagine what the parents must have been going through, all the while knowing that tonight I would be preaching on a text which speaks about the good news of great joy.  Sitting there, I was fully aware of the tension of being in this world, with its sheer and utter injustices and sadness staring me in the face, and at the same time keeping my eyes focused on the big picture, on the everlasting joy that can come only from God. 

What I have discovered again this Christmas is the glorious good news of the promise of the gospel, that even in the midst of the darkest times there is the light of the One, who came to show us the true heart and character of God, who came to show us what it truly means to be human, who came to show us how to live in the right relationship with God and with others, who came to break the chains of sin and win victory over death – the one who came as our Savior.   

What I have discovered again this Christmas is the real reason why this time is truly a time of great joy, for the very same reason that the Biblical writers could, because in the birth of Jesus, the promise of God spoken about long ago by the prophets became fulfilled in the unexpected good news of the gospel, that in Jesus Christ, God came to be with us, and is as near to us now as he ever was before. 

And so, on this Holy night of Christmas Eve, let us continue to rejoice and give thanks and by the grace of God, keep our hearts and minds, bodies and souls firmly directed toward the hope, peace, joy, and love that can only truly be found in the God, who continues to do the unexpected, who continues to bring the good news of great joy for all people, for to us was born this day in the city of David, a Savior, the Messiah, Christ the Lord.  Amen.