“I do not want to rejoice, celebrate, to be happy or even to be thankful. I don’t feel like it. I want to grieve, to be angry, emotional, sad. I want to ask hundreds of questions and get the answers that I need. I don’t think I can pray – I can’t find the words to talk to you, God. I’m too confused. I suppose I don’t really know what I want right now….but I am sure that I don’t want to be joyful and I don’t want to have to prepare a sermon on Joy in the next couple of weeks never mind stand and deliver it to the church…”*
I’ve no idea of your personal circumstances. For some, I imagine you are looking forward to the weeks ahead. You have many plans, idea, parties, events – these weeks are shaping up really well.
But for others, I also can guess that it’s not that easy. Life isn’t a barrel of laughs right now and you may even have wished that the Christmas season was over, before it had begun. Maybe because it’s too painful; too stressful; there are too many memories; you have lost someone you loved recently; you have lost hope or even faith in a circumstance; someone you know is ill or hurting; this time of year is lonely and long; or you have too many worries and concerns clouding your thoughts. So your plan is to keep your head down and just get through.
Maybe you are somewhere in the middle, you’re not at the top of the mountain or the bottom of the valley.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour, yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in the city of David”.
This is as a TRIUMPHANT announcement! It’s good news, it’s great news and it’s JOY for ALL people. ALL people – includes you and me.
What are our reasons for this ‘great Joy’, that the Angel has spoken of, especially if it’s not how we feel, this season? What do we know, of the Lord, that could be our reasons to rejoice, no matter what our circumstances? Why is the birth of Jesus, in unknown stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, the gift of joy to each of us today?
1.God is faithful.
If we ever needed evidence that God is faithful, we only need look at the manager in Bethlehem. God planned to send Jesus long before the creation of the world. He promised Him way back as far as Genesis, to Adam and Eve. When humanity messed up, in the biggest way possible, God made His intentions very clear – to buy us back and to do so by sending Jesus.
I think that it is one of the greatest treasures of Christmas message. I ponder on the nation of Israel, and the years they had been waiting and wondering, when and possibly if, this Messiah they’d been promised was going to be born.
We can read the story, nearly, in reverse but for Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets and the everyday people of Israel (just like you and me) they were holding onto this promise for a long long time…
They may not have been sure exactly what God was saying He was going to do, but they knew that He was promising to do something, and they would have been hoping that it was something big.
I wonder, if at times like the Flood; or when they were brought out of Egypt; or when they finally got the Promised Land; or later when foreign armies invaded them and they lost their homes, their land and were forced to live in a new country, what did they think then? Did they wonder what on earth God was doing and when He was going to show up? Was God going to come through for them? Was He really going to do what He had said?
The answer is found in the Christmas story and the answer is a resounding YES! Despite all the years and events that had passed (both triumphant and disastrous), despite the waiting and wondering, hoping and watching, God, at the right time, sent His Son to the world, just as He had committed to do, from the start.
Surely this is a reason, for great joy?
We have a faithful God. One who doesn’t whisper obscurities in dark corners but publicly declares bold promises and always bring them to pass.
We can have joy in our hearts this morning because, despite what our world may be throwing at us, we have a faithful Father.
I want to remind you of that – God can be trusted to do what He says. No matter how you may feel, no matter how the future may look, no matter what anyone else may say to you or about you, God is constant.
Perhaps you are waiting for God to move, perhaps you are wondering if things will ever come to pass. Whether you can see it or not, God has not forgotten – He remembers all that He has said and promised to do. Hear the message of the Angel and rejoice! Rejoice, because God is faithful!
2. God became flesh.
If sending Jesus, as He promised, proves God’s faithfulness towards us, then surely becoming human (like us) shows his tremendous love and compassion for us? We often sing in the Christmas Carols of Jesus being “Emmanuel” – God with us.
God took no short cuts in His rescue mission for us, there was no other way for the wrong to be made right, other than for Jesus to come and dwell among us. God willing chose to limit himself in a human body, in order to get us home.
That tiny baby we see in the manager is God in the flesh. The Creator of the stars, who came to earth to meet with us. Imagine that. God delights in us so much that He would leave the splendour, the majesty of Heaven and come to Earth, to be born in obscurity and squalor where many (even those who were waiting for his arrival) would neither recognise Him or want Him.
Isn’t that, in and of itself, reason enough of us to joy? And yet, there is more! For when we hear that God became flesh we can be sure of another thing – He knows.
He knows what it’s like to walk this earth.
He knows the pain and the sorrows. The reality of everyday life and the pressures it brings.
He himself had great times and hard times.
He was misunderstood, despised, rejected, denied, alone, tired, hungry, grieving, and separated from his father.
We can be filled with Joy because we have a God who knows. He is not distant from us, or disconnected from what it’s like to face another new day, here on earth. I remind myself constantly, especially in difficult days, that this path I’m on is one that Jesus himself has walked before me and He knows. I can have joy in the midst of everything that I’m battling because God became flesh and dwelt among us.
3. God became our Saviour.
The angel said –
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The saviour – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David.”
If God had simply come to earth to live among us, we would be still be in mess we were before. Even if He had been faithful in coming in Jesus, that alone would still not have been enough. For Christmas (the birth of Jesus) is only the start of the story. Jesus, the tiny baby we see in the manager, grew into a man who willing choose, not only to come to earth and experience our pain, but to die our death on the cross in order to win us back. God became our Saviour. That was God’s plan, it always was His plan.
Sin had to be defeated because it separated us from Him. The only way to make that good was for Jesus to be crucified in our place. That’s what the angel is so excited about! That’s the reason for great joy in the Luke’s gospel because, in coming to earth as a baby, God is setting about making all things new again.
“The saviour – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David.”
We can rejoice because God would rather die for us than live without us.
We can rejoice because our sin is dealt with, Jesus is alive and has risen from the dead and God, by His Holy Spirit dwells, lives and moves within us and among us.
We are at peace with God. He is coming back one day and then we will meet Him face to face.
I have often been caught singing to myself the words of this old hymn…you probably know it…
“When peace like a river attendeth my way
Or when sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, you have taught me to know
It is well; it is well with my soul.”
What more of a reason do we need for joy than to know that, because of Jesus, it can be well with our soul?
Why is the Christmas message God’s gift of Joy to us?
Why can I find myself rejoicing in the midst of circumstances that break my heart?
Because the Christmas message is God’s story of His faithfulness, His love, His mercy, His redemption and new life on our behalf.
Because God became flesh. Because He knows. He came to us and he dwelt among us. He felt our pain and sorrow, our laughs and excitements and He eventually bore our sin.
God became our ‘Wonderful counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’.
Jesus became Emmanuel – God is with us. God came amongst His people. God is amongst us, His people, today.
So whatever this season of life is throwing at you or taking you through, there is the Gift of Joy from God, that nothing can destroy, steal or dampen.
God has seen to it, that in giving Himself to us and for us – “in all of our lives, in every season, he is still God and we have a reason to sing and to worship”.
*The quote is an extract from my diary and the rest is adapted from a sermon I wrote and preached, 5 years ago, after a devastating loss of a friend, a few weeks previously.