“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…” Luke 2:10
Let’s face it. Sometimes joy can be a challenge for all of us, even in church. Or, for that matter, especiallyin church. It’s easy to think sometimes that it’s our obligation in church circles to overdo the imperative, filling the air with “should” and “ought” and “must.” Do this, don’t do that. If, on rare occasion, you come to church feeling fairly good about yourself, and about the world–well, we’ll fix that.
But not at Christmas. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” And those simple, yet profound words from that familiar Christmas hymn remind us of why there is to be joy in Whoville….and Shelby County…during this Christmas season. Because the Lord has come.
We do get confused sometimes, thinking that the source of our joy will be the new Salad Shooter, or camo Snuggie, or Cam Newton doll, or gift card to our favorite dining establishment, or whatever else may be on your Christmas list this year. Those things may bring temporary happiness–“oh, you shouldn’t have!”–but they don’t bring genuine and lasting joy.
You have to remember, that when those shepherds heard the message from the angel as they tended their flocks by night (and were “sore afraid”) it was the good news for which they had waited a lifetime. In fact, God’s people had been awaiting their Deliverer for generations, since the prophet Isaiah had foretold His birth in a time of bondage and exile: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” he wrote. “…And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
In the least expected of ways, God the Father sent the long-expected Jesus into the world in a feeding trough in a Bethlehem stable. But the Light of the world had come, and He was–and is–“Emmanuel, God with us.” That good news still sheds a different kind of light on us all, even 20 centuries later. Joy to the world!
I do realize that just because we sing, “‘Tis the season to be jolly,” doesn’t make this “the most wonderful time of the year” for everyone. There is more depression at Christmas than at any time of year. Many of you are feeling the heartache of a first Christmas without a loved one, or are separated from family, or are going through specifically trying times this year that have dampened your holiday spirit. But do not despair.
Each of us, whatever our lot, can experience the joy of Christmas when we stop and reflect, recognize the presence of Jesus, Emmanuel, and live in the light of His presence, even in the midst of a dark world. I hope and pray you’ll know that inside-out joy this Christmas.
I count it such a privilege to be your pastor, and can’t wait to see each of you this Sunday at Shelby Crossings as we “repeat the sounding joy” of the gospel of Christmas.