This week’s Advent focus is on joy. But let’s face it; sometimes joy can be a challenge for all of us, even in church. Or, for that matter, especially in 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 iPhone, or camo Snuggie, or Lane Kiffin doll, or Bojangles gift card, 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 twenty centuries later. Joy to the world!
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, morning and evening, as we “repeat the sounding joy” of the gospel of Christmas.