I think Christmas is one of the most stress-filled times of the year. If you take the time to think about all the things you need to accomplish on your “to do” list, it can be overwhelming. You have a plethora of gifts to buy. The house needs cleaning, there are meals to prepare and all the things needed around the house for all the family and friends to arrive… it is hard to think about joy when the demands of this life seem to be pulling every grain of joy out of your life.
When Jesus arrived on the scene, life was pretty quiet for a group of shepherds. They would be out in the fields watching out for their flocks. The most difficult thing might be warding off a predator looking for a meal. But on one particular night, things got both exciting and complicated. We read the story in Luke 2.
In verses 8 to 14, we read, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
The angels began their interaction with the words, “Do not be afraid.” Now I think many of us have heard those words at different times in our lives. Maybe it was before getting a needle or having to do something dangerous or risky. Regardless, those aren’t the most comforting words to begin a conversation.
Next, the angels say to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” I think people are always looking for joy, but in this case, the angels declared it would be “great joy.” Considering how our world is today, great joy would be wonderful. But in this season of Christmas, joy is often lost in the chaos. Where do we find joy when the demands of life and the season sap us of it?
As children Christmas was simple… it was about gifts! We would spend weeks trying to figure out what were in the brightly wrapped packages under the tree. When the big day came, we would get up early and quickly unwrap the gifts and begin playing with them.
As adults, it is a lot different. How did things get so complicated? How did things get so rushed? Our time turned into our most valuable commodity. Finding time for self or time to relax is almost impossible. That being said, we can choose to step aside and step into a quieter moment and read the angel’s words from that night which changed not only the shepherd’s lives but the entire world’s.
Now we need to remember that this was just another night of work in the field for shepherds. A chill in the air, with serenity, and boredom. Another night of work like a thousand nights before, and just like a thousand years before when David was just a boy and stood to watch in the same fields. Life hadn’t changed in a millennium.
And then everything would change in a single night. When the angel appeared, beaming with a glorious light that could only be the glory of God Himself, those men and boys who were used to fending off wild beasts to protect their sheep were reduced to terror.
Were they convinced by the simple words: “I bring you great news of great joy”? Probably not. Joy would have to come later. They would have to see the proof itself. That’s the way it works with joy.
The real joy is never something that originates from within, it has to come to us from without. Trying to find joy by getting it out of yourself is like believing a river can flow uphill. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why so many have a hard time finding joy at Christmas.
You might bite into a Christmas cookie, and you might enjoy it. You can open a shiny package and you might enjoy what you find inside. But joy itself – in its true and pure form – is so much more than this. Joy is the startling realization that God really has claimed territory in this world. He’s taken back what belongs to Him.
And then joy is a thirst that doesn’t want to be quenched; a hunger that knows it will go on and on. It’s a good thing, to never get enough of God. And best of all, this joy about a royal entry into the world is “great” because it is everywhere. A joy “that will be for all the people.” Right here, right now – that means me and it means you.