Advent Reflections: On Joy

If you haven’t watched this video, please just stop reading now and take a moment to watch it. Please. For me. I’ll wait.

People make fun of me for loving this movie, and I firmly believe it’s because those people are the grinch incarnate. You can’t watch “The Preacher’s Wife” without getting all the Christmas feels, and it just does not feel like Christmas to me until I watch it. My husband has just surrendered at this point, and actually suggested around the first of December that we spend an evening cuddled up on the couch watching it (well, he mainly checks basketball scores, but I still count it as a win).

And you can’t hear Whitney Houston sing this and not feel something. If you don’t, I’m arguing you don’t have a pulse. There’s gotta be a tiny shimmer of joy somewhere inside when those notes hit your ears. As a very sophisticated and wise music teacher I once knew said: “You gotta respect her instrument, even if you don’t like the way she uses it.” Let’s just all agree to agree on this one.

“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

‘Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’”

When God came into the world, he sent a company of angels, a “multitude” of shining, other-worldly beings to announce his birth in precisely this way. Many of us grow up hearing these words all our lives: at Christmas Eve services, in our living rooms, watching Linus recite them on that famous empty cartoon stage. Because these words are so familiar to us, it’s easy to just let them fall on our ears without truly taking in the magnitude of this moment. God the creator could have said anything at this moment in history, and he chose this. God is not careless, and he was purposeful in choosing these words…

“Do not be afraid…”

This is an important one. I see an ungodly amount of fear in our culture today—and I do mean ungodly. It is literally not of God. Sadly and ironically, I see so much of it in Christians—the people who, in my opinion, should be the least fearful group of people on the planet. I see fear for our safety, fear of those who are different from us, fear of the unknown, fear of those who might want to harm us, fear of those who might want something from us, fear of the future, to name just a few.

I believe those words were not just for those frightened shepherds trembling before the angel in that field. Don’t you think God knew these words would echo down through each generation? Don’t you think he knew they would be written and recited and broadcast and blogged about? “Do not fear” is one of the most-used phrases in the Bible, and I think that should tell us something. As the children of God, we are NOT to be a people of fear.

“I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”

This baby is good news…to ALL people. To EVERYONE. EVERYWHERE. It’s not just good news for you, shepherds. In fact, it’s not just good news to the Jews, or even to the first century Romans. This baby is good news to ALL PEOPLE in every time in every place. What an incredible concept, in and of itself. And yet, how often do we miss this?

Jesus is for EVERYONE. So we, as followers of him, should be the most open-armed people to walk the earth. Our attitude and demeanor should be one of openness, of welcome, of outlandish non-exclusivism. Jesus is for me and you, how incredible! And Jesus is for them, whoever “them” is to you. In fact, in God’s kingdom, there is no “them”, but only US. Jesus came for all of us, and THANK GOD.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

What incredibly glorious news this was to those shepherds, and to the nation of Israel. As a people under oppression, they were breathlessly waiting for their Messiah to come and to deliver them. An entire nation was waiting on the edge of their seat, in desperation, for this joyous news.

And what joyous news it still is to us today! As we watch violence, war, hunger, poverty, and oppression all around our world, unsolved by woefully inadequate government plans and strategies, aren’t we, too, desperate for a rescue?

And on the micro level, in my little life, I feel my need for a Savior every day. I can truly say that Jesus is the best news I have ever heard. In him, I have found freedom: from insecurity, from bondage to selfishness, from shame, from feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. In him, I have found peace, and not the kind that comes from everything turning out right. Though I wait confidently in the hope that everything WILL eventually be made right, I have peace in the midst of stressful surroundings, in the midst of the storm. In Jesus, there is JOY overflowing—joy that isn’t dependent on my circumstances.

“…And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

This is the moment when God himself is entering the human sphere, as a human. Take a moment to let that sink in. I think it’s especially telling that he uses these words here, in this moment, the moment of God coming to be among us, to have direct, personal contact with us. It needed to be made clear that “God with us” is, in fact, “good tidings of great joy.” You see, if you think of God as a vengeful, lofty deity waiting for a chance to punish us, then God coming to earth to be near us is not especially good news. But if he is who he says he is, and who Jesus has shown us he is, then the baby born in Bethlehem is the most joyous news in all of human history! He tells us plainly, in no uncertain terms, that the demeanor of God toward us is one of goodwill. The angels are saying, “God is so great and glorious! And his heart is inclined toward his creation!”

Do not fear. There is good news for ALL people everywhere, not just for the elite few. A true savior, a messiah has come to our rescue. May there be peace among us for God’s favor rests on us!

THIS IS GOOD NEWS. Let’s leap with joy! Let’s celebrate! Yes, sometimes life on this crazy planet can be a battle. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who prepares a feast for us IN THE MIDST OF IT. Drink deeply. Receive this joy that is freely poured out to us! Celebrate richly. Revel in the lavish abundance of it, no matter what others do or think. And live in light of this news open-handed and open-hearted, inviting others to feast and celebrate joyfully with you.

Look around you this week. Observe every aspect of your life from the perspective of this glorious news, and watch it come alive and sparkle with the life of God. I fully believe your heart will fill to the brim with gratitude and gratitude will give way to overflowing joy.

Glory to God in the Highest!

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