And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Luke 2:10, ESV.
One thing I have never been able to enjoy in my life is Christmas movies, not sure about you, but for me it is that scene where someone in the movie says, “The real meaning of Christmas is…” And then the actor proceeds to talk about being kind to people, showing love, family, giving gifts to others, or some form of heart felt sentiment. The problem is the reality of many peoples lives shows that Christmas is not always such a joyous occasion. For example, Christmas 2013, Tao Hsiao was shopping in East China with his girlfriend. After five hours of shopping with his girlfriend he had reached the point where he was sick of it and wanted to go home. Unfortunately his girlfriend insisted that he must go into another clothes shop. After continual insistence Tao Hsiao chucked the shopping bags to the floor and jumped off the balcony in order to commit suicide.
The fact of the matter is Christmas is often a hard time for many people: Families are reminded that their loved one is no longer present, parents struggle financially to give the gifts the world expects, people sit alone reminded that there is no one that cares, families descend into bitter arguments over pathetic issues over ‘who should cut the Christmas turkey’. Christmas is not always that joyous occasion that we get told it is in the media.
The problem is not that we face difficulties at Christmas, because the truth is we face problems all year round; they tend to just be intensified at Christmas. The problem is we do not have, or have not recognised what true joy is. While we follow in the worlds ways of focusing on the exteriors of the world – family, gifts, community service, friends – we will never find true joy.
The question then is, if our problem is that we do not have true joy, then obviously we know what we need; true joy. But what is true joy? And where do we get it from? In the story of the shepherds and the angels we find the answer to both of these questions. Interestingly we are not told anything about who those shepherds were. Were they happy shepherds or sad shepherds? Were they hired hands or owners? We have no clue, and I think Luke does not give us the information for a reason. It isn’t important for the story, but it also means we can apply what happens to the shepherds to us without reservation.
You see on that fateful night, things were probably the same as every other night, shepherds sitting quietly in the field watching their sheep. Only one thing we know of these shepherds and that is their reaction to what happens. We are told in verse 9 that an angel appeared and the glory of the Lord shone around them, their response – as is common when an angel appears to people – is fear. Just like when Manoah and his wife are visited by the angel in Judges, or when Zechariah was visited, or Mary, or Daniel. The response is always the same, one of terror. Why? Because when a sinner is confronted by the glory of the Lord the first reaction that comes to a sinners mind is judgement. Who of us can stand before the glory of God? The same response that the people of Beth Shemeth gave in 1 Samuel 6 would have gone through the minds of the shepherds, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?”
But the shepherds were not to remain in fear, the same God who commanded the angel to say to Zechariah, Manoah’s wife, Mary and Daniel, do not be afraid, also commanded the angel to say to the shepherds, “DO NOT BE AFRAID”. Why should they not be afraid? Because the angel has not come in judgement but the angel has come in peace, he has come to bring good news of great joy. Not just news, not just good news, not even just good news of joy, but good news of great joy. Yes, we have a great need, we need true gospel joy at this time of year and all year around, but we have a God who is greater then our need, for he promises as true joy that conquers all things.
Brothers and Sisters we must have joy, we must have true joy and we must have it in all situations. True joy only comes through the announcement of the gospel, it only comes through the birth of our faithful saviour. We can look to alcohol, work, family, friends, money, sport, cars, computers, internet, pornography, sex, drugs, or any other human creation, but we will never find true joy. We will always be left wanting, like a child opening an empty Christmas present. We will be left with tears in our eyes. Why? Because when we open those things and seek joy it is like grabbing a thorn bush for support, it gives support for a short time but it also destroys your hands, rips at your flesh and gives way eventually.
So what is true joy? It is beholding the birth of Christ, it is looking to the coming of our saviour, it is seeing God who came to be man, who came to live amongst us and to die for us. It is all these things but it is more, it is having a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact of the matter is when life gets tough, when life gets turned upside down like a carton of milk, nothing will sustain you, nothing will bring you joy other then your relationship with an all sovereign God. What does joy look like in different situations? Let us briefly consider that before concluding.
Life’s pretty normal? When you live life and everything seems normal it can be easy to become complacent and think to yourself that you need nothing more for your joy and peace. This is one of the most dangerous places to be. From here the person most commonly stops looking to Christ for joy, stops looking to the gospel of peace, the true joy that comes with having a right relationship with Christ. There is no rejoicing in what Christ has done, pride creeps in and our joy turns into selfish pride of what we have obtained. If your life feels like is going smoothly, safe guard yourself, you must make sure you joy is in God and not in yourself.
Life’s pretty hard? When your life is at its worst, maybe the death of a family member, a decision is made you disagree with, work is getting you down whatever it is. This is the time when you must look to God for your joy. This is when you must cry out with the Psalmist, “From where does my help come from?” And respond with,
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forever more.
Psalm 121, ESV.
When you turn to him in hardships he will provide what you need, and your joy will be great. Not because you will be happy, not because your hardships will instantly go away, but because your faithful God will come to you and be known by you. He will be your God and you will find all joy and peace in him!
Life’s end? Sickness and death, what joy can there be? Look to the stories of those faithful Christians who have died. Their testimonies abound, I remember the story of the death of a man who said, “I am seeing into heaven and I can see the saviour. He is with me.” When his wife began to cry he said, “Peggy, don’t cry. This is what I have been waiting for. This is my coronation day.” He remained like that until he passed into glory. Death can be a wonderful thing for those who are experiencing the joy of the gospel, because they view it with hope. But how atrocious is the death of the wicked, they die in utter fear and hopelessness. May your joy be found in Christ if your time is near!
Dear reader, the fact of the matter is, in all of your life you can look to yourself for your joy and be disappointed throughout your life. Or you can turn to the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ for your joy and you will NEVER be let down. You will experience joy in every area of your life, not because you are strong or great, but because you have a faithful Lord and saviour who will supply you with all your needs.
Our problem in life so often is that we do not have true joy, we need true gospel joy and that gospel joy is announced to us just like it was to the shepherds at the birth of Christ. Reader, the choice is yours, do you accept the joy on offer, the joy that comes only through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?