The Joy of Christmas
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:8-11)
I’ve told about the occasion when I gave a Christmas talk on this theme of the Joy of Christmas to the downtown Kiwanis Club. After the meeting, one of the men came to me and asked, “What do you say to us who have no joy at Christmas?”
That reminds me of one Christmas when I lost all my joy.
My Dad had given Mom one of those wind-up alarm clocks, I’d never seen one before. Wanting to please me, Mom set the alarm and at the anticipated hour we three kids surrounded that clock to hear it go off. I can’t remember all the details now, but somehow I got hold of the clock and took it to my room. I wanted to find out what made it ring! For that Christmas I had received a tool set —a miniature hammer, saw, pliers and a small screwdriver. That Christmas afternoon, I slipped into my room and took that alarm clock all apart! I did discover what made it ring. The problem came in putting it all together again! And that’s when I learned the truth about Humpty-Dumpty! What took the joy out of Christmas was when I went to my Dad for help! Instead of help, I got a well-deserved licking!
That story aside, what is it that gives us joy at Christmas?
• The presents?
• The food?
• The candy?
• The family?
• The friends?
As we look at the Christmas story, we want to find the key to their joy and then ask, “Can that same joy be ours?”
We need a definition for JOY.
—Joy comes from a French word — to rejoice, to be glad
—It’s an emotion we feel
—Locke defined it: JOY is a delight of mind, from an experience of the present, or an assured possession of an approaching good.
—There are 15 Hebrew words for joy and 8 Greek words.
I. THE JOY OF MARY — THE JOY OF SERVING
I don ‘t think she felt joy when the angel appeared and gave her the news that she would have a baby. That, at first, must have worried her.
- Sleepless nights, concern, worry
- What would Joseph say?
- What would her parents say?
- What would her friends say?
Joy didn’t come until she visited her cousin Elizabeth, days later. The angel told Mary that Elizabeth, too, would have a special baby. Apparently, before telling anyone else, she went to see her. Luke 1.39-40 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.
What a welcome!
Luke 1:42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
And thrilling to Mary … “It’s true … what the Angel said!”
Mary suddenly bursts out in JOY and wonder.
Luke 1:46-49, the Magnificat:
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name…”
Her JOY knows no bounds. Why?
- Her spirit is filled with JOY at the thought she is to give birth to the Savior!
- The great JOY of being a vessel God could use! Fulfillment of all of God’s promises to his people.
- She stays for 3 months and then has to go back home to get things settled.
- must talk to Joseph
- must tell her parents
- must face her friends
- The simple yet great JOY of serving as an instrument of God.
I had a phone call from Fred 40 years ago. I met with him in Portland. He wanted to argue about Missions. I simply challenged him to experiment, do something for God and watch what happened. So later he called to say, “How I thank you! I look back now and see how God has used me in so many places of the world!” and he broke down, crying for JOY.
II. THE JOY OF THE SHEPHERDS — JOY OF LEARNING
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11
• Out in the fields that night no JOY was expressed.
• They were sore afraid of those angels!
• When did their JOY come?
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. Luke 2:15-20
What made them rejoice? The news given them by the angels: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
• They heard the song of the angels
• They saw the baby
• They heard all the details concerning the Savior
• They returned glorifying and praising God
Tomás Buzzeli in Argentina: wanted to serve God and started a church. Those who taught him explained that you won the favor of God by following a dress and eating/drinking code…very legalistic. Then he came to one of our Pastor Conferences and for the first time he heard it was not by works that we are saved. Christ came to save us from all our efforts and he said, “I want that Savior. I’m so tired of working so hard to make Him accept me!” They had a revival of JOY in the Savior at their church!
The JOY of learning what freedom of the Gospel brings!
III. THE JOY OF THE WISE MEN — JOY OF GIVING
To the Wise Men from the East, a special star was the messenger.
A very unusual, special story in which God tells people outside of Israel about the coming of His Son, the Savior.
Back in 1899 Henry Van Dyke wrote a story titled “The Other Wise Man,” a fictitious story about a supposed wise man who followed the star not only to Bethlehem, but throughout his life, and yet never found the King. He named that wise man Artaban.
In his research Van Dyke found that the Magi came from Persia and Babylon. They were men of great wealth, great learning and great faith. Artaban, for instance, was not only a man of great wisdom, he was also a very excellent medical doctor. Together with his learned companions, Artaban searched the scriptures as to the time that the Savior would be born. They expected that God would send a sign of His birth by a new star appearing in the heavens. Each night they searched for that star. Artaban watched from Persia and the others observed the sky from Babylon.
The biblical account and some non-Jewish beliefs and traditions.
• The Jews thought the Messiah was only for them
• The Magi (or Wise Men) looked for a King, not a Messiah-Savior
• The Magi studied the stars, not the Scriptures
• The Magi consulted King Herod, their equal, not the religious leaders
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. Matthew 2:9-12
• When they consulted the wrong source (Herod), the star disappeared!
• Seeing the star brought JOY. Why? God was speaking in their terms. God gave them a sign in the language they understood.
• Knowing the star was God’s they knew the Son was also God’s Son.
• They believed! They worshipped! They gave!
IV. THE JOY OF SIMEON AND ANNA — THE JOY OF PROMISES FULFILLED
- In the story of Christmas there is one further account of great JOY.
- It shows us that JOY is not just for the young, but even for the very old.
- The story moved from Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem
- The Levitical law: (Leviticus 12:2)
- When a child is born, he is to be circumcised the eighth day
- Thirty days later, the child is to be presented to God with a sacrifice
- A lamb for the well-to-do
- Two turtle doves (pigeons) for the poor
- Mary and Joseph obediently take Jesus to the Jerusalem Temple
- Joseph carries the two little doves
- Mary has Jesus bundled up in her arms
- As they walk into the area where children are dedicated
- A very old priest suddenly approaches
- He takes the little Jesus out of Mary’s arms and begins dancing around in gleeful joy! He hugs the baby and dances and dances!
- In a hoarse whisper, tears streaming down his face, he críes:
“My Savior! My Savior! My Savior!”
Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel. Luke 2:29-32
- Unexpectedly an old, old lady, Anna, joins the party
She, too, joins the dance as best she can! She gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Luke 2:38
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Luke 2:33
- To Mary, God’s great Archangel, Gabriel, gave the news.
- To the shepherds, the announcement came from a choir of angels.
- To the Wise Men from the East, a star was the messenger.
- To Simeon and Anna, the baby Himself –that little baby they embrace– is the One they’ve waited all their long lives to see.
Is that the end of the story? NO!
Others figure into the Christmas story: you and I
Whether you are joyful or sad really depends on how you respond to the clear message of Christmas.
A baby was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and his name was Jesus = Savior
Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.
Have you accepted Him —embraced Him— as your Savior?
Do you really think you can make life without him and that you need a Savior in this scary, sinful world?
ILLUSTRATION STORY: “United at Last”
True story by Pastor Bob Reid
The brand new pastor and his wife, assigned to their first ministry in urban Brooklyn, arrived in early October excited about their opportunities. When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work.
They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve. They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc. and on Dec. 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished.
On December 19 a terrible tempest hit the area —a driving rainstorm that lasted for two days. On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church. His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 6 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high. The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor. It looked so bad, there in the front of the church, he thought the best thing would be to postpone the Christmas Eve service, and headed home to discuss it with his wife.
On the way he noticed that a local business was having a flea market sale for charity so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crochet tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross-embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover up the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the church.
By this time it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later. She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc. to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area. Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was white as a sheet.
“Pastor,” she asked, “Where did you get that tablecloth?” The pastor explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials EBG were crocheted into it there. They were. These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria. The woman could hardly believe it as the pastor told how he had just gotten the tablecloth. The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria. When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week. She was captured, sent to prison and never saw her husband nor her home again.
The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church. The pastor insisted on driving her home. That was the least he could do. She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.
What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve. The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return. One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood, continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he was not leaving. The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike? He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety, and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a concentration camp. He never saw his wife nor his home again for all the 35 years in between.
The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride. They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier. He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman’s apartment, knocked on the door and the pastor saw the greatest Christmas reunion one could ever imagine.
P.S. At that first Christmas, it was not a beautiful tablecloth, but a lowly stable with a beautiful baby lying in a manger. Look! Recognize that the baby came for you! That’s what Christmas is all about. God becoming man to reunite you, separated by sin, to the Father.