What do you want for Christmas?
Here’s the two favorite Dear Santa letters written: “Dear Santa, there are three little boys who live at our house. There is Jeffrey; he is two. There is David; he is four. And there is Norman; he is seven. Jeffrey is good some of the time. David is good some of the time. But Norman is good all of the time. I am Norman.” “Dear Santa, you did not bring me anything good last year. You did not bring me anything good the year before that. This is your last chance. Signed, Alfred.”
Here is another thing, when something is a big deal, it’s hard to wait for it. I bet you know the end of this 1944 song: Every body stops and stares at me, These two teeth are gone as you can see. I don’t know just who to blame for this catastrophe! But my one wish on Christmas Eve is as plain as it can be! All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth, see my two front teeth!
At Christmas, most people want more than their two front teeth. Many of us are longing for something that we feel we don’t have. Some of us secretly say: “If I could only have this…then I’d be happy.” Some of us are on a search for something elusive, just out of reach. Could it be that we’ve misplaced what is “merry” about Christmas?
700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah chapter 61:1-2, brought a message of both bad news of judgment and good news of joy, peace, forgiveness and hope. “ The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed (Joy), to bind up the brokenhearted (Peace), to proclaim liberty to the captives (Forgiveness), and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor(Hope), and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness(Joy) instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Joy, Isaiah looks ahead to the time when glad tidings will be preached to the sad and the sorrowful, to the depressed and the despondent. To “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” was a promise of a joyful jubilee and it must have been good news to those who were grieving because they really were during Isaiah’s time. The “garland of praise” would replace the sackcloth of sadness. Ashes represent anguish while oil stands for joy in the Bible.
In Isaiah’s time God’s people had big problems yet, in the midst of the mess they were in, these words filled them with a longing for something more. They had waited a long time for a special gift from God, something more. It’s like one of the 50 people that received a Christmas card from a woman that rushed to mail them out and then she found she had one left, she then finally read the card, then she figured she had a problem, she originally missed this line in her cards: “This card is just to say, a special gift is on the way.”
In the Old Testament, God declares: “This is just to say, a special gift is on the way.” Today we focus on the joy that comes from the special gift of Jesus, announced to a group of shepherds in Luke 2:8-11. Yes, it’s the shepherds again this Sunday.
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
The shepherds actually show us the method of God that he often uses today to reach people!
1. Night. The shepherds were keeping watch at night, people who don’t know Jesus are in the dark. Spiritual darkness was in the world until Jesus came. Recovery of sight for the blind was about to begin. No more darkness, light is about to appear.
2. Light. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appears in a flash of light, and it must have been BIG because this was the glory of the Lord. Light represents the Holy Spirit illuminating a life with His convicting work. This reminds me of the beautiful prophecy found in Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
3. Fright. Big light caused the shepherds great fright: “…and they were terrified.” This word means that they were alarmed and agitated. As I remember my time before surrendering to Jesus, I am reminded again of how I fought to turn off the light of the Lord when He was working on me. I was mad at God and how he was taking Bonnie away. A pastor wrote about lfie then better than me: “Sitting in the darkness of sin may have been spooky, but it was tolerable. But suddenly the glory of God’s absolute holiness shines in your sin-blackened heart…” and you become undone.
4. Alright. So after night, light and fright the shepherds are told it’s alright. “Do not be afraid.” Angels were known to bring the wrath of God back then, bad news, but this time it was different. Incidentally, I’m told that the words “fear not” appear 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year.
So at the risk of you thinking that what I am about to say is elementary, I think that actually we have forgotten the message and joy of Christmas. I think that too many followers of Jesus barely have the fire of revival in them, the church has become all to often a dying ember. Here is what happened then and remember those shepherds got on fire. God brought:
1. Good News. God says to the calmed down shepherds: “I am bringing you good news…” This phrase means to “announce, declare, or show” the evangel, which is where we get the word “gospel” from. In these times of seemingly all “bad” news, folks, we got the Good News to spread and if anyone says the news is filled with bad, you got an opening to talk about the Good News of Jesus! Again, I keep hearing about how bad the world is and we have THE good news.
Big conversation opener because good news is only good news when it comes in response to bad news. The bad news is that we’re sinners. The good news is that the Savior has been born. Until we really understand we are sinners, we won’t appreciate the good news of Christmas. We can’t appreciate amazing grace until we have first appreciated the fact that as wretches we deserve the wrath of God. This good news is the best news possible! Do you spread it? This week?
2. Great Joy. This news is “of great joy.” The word “great” here is the word megas in the Greek. It has the idea of “mega joy” or super-sized or super abounding or humungous “cheerfulness.” It’s exciting because God is bringing about the solution to the sin problem. They went from total terror to humungous joy.
Paul asked a very penetrating question in Galatians 4:15: “What has happened to all your joy…” That question needs to be asked in the church today. What has happened to all my joy? What has happened to all your joy? Billy Sunday once said, “The trouble with many men is that they have got just enough religion to make them miserable. If there is not joy in religion, you’ve got a leak in your religion.” A pastor once said to Groucho Marx: “Mr. Marx, I want to thank you for bringing so much joy into the world.” To which Groucho replied, “I want to thank you for taking so much out.” Studies clearly show that all too often exactly that is what the world sees in followers of Jesus.
Happiness is not joy because they each come from a different source. One comes from the world around me, the other originates directly from the Spirit of the Living God. Happiness is conditioned by and often dependent upon what is “happening” to me. If people treat me nicely, if things are going well in my life, then I’m happy. If my life isn’t going well, then I’m unhappy.
Joy, on the other hand, pulses through the Bible as a profound, compelling quality of life that transcends the delights and disasters. Joy is a God given dimension of living that is not tied down by circumstances. The Hebrew word means, “To leap or spin around with pleasure.” In the New Testament the word refers to “gladness, bliss and celebration.” It’s hard to be merry about Christmas in our “Happy Holidays” culture, isn’t it? People busy, shoppers stressed, families fractured and joy seems to be elusive. No matter how broke or busy you are, you can be joyful because it’s a choice to rejoice. Actually, it’s a command repeated twice in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Let me share a few choices we can make to help us rejoice.
1. Recognize God as joyful. God is not a taskmaster. If you think he is then joy is probably hard to come by for you. God smiles at you, frankly I think He often laughs at you. Zephaniah 3:17 lets you know how God is: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” God delights in you and breaks out into song when He thinks about you! That’s hard to believe, isn’t it? The Living Bible paraphrases this verse: “Is that a joyous choir I hear? No, it is the Lord himself exulting over you in happy song.” Luke 10:21 says that Jesus “was full of joy.” Some don’t view God as joyful, then I doubt they have joy either
2. Receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, totally. If you are not a true believer in Jesus, you can’t really experience lasting joy. Acts 16:34 says that the Philippian jailer “…was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God, he and his whole family.” Is joy really what you want this Christmas? Remember that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem but He must be born in you. Corrie Ten Boom once said: “If Jesus were born one thousand times in Bethlehem and not in me, then I would still be lost.” It’s easy to get all sentimental during this season. But don’t substitute sentimentality for salvation.
3. Remain close to Jesus. In Psalm 16:11 David writes about the source of his delight: “You will fill me with joy in your presence.” Jesus puts it this way in John 15:10-11: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Remaining close to Jesus means you take the time during this season to get close and stay close. Priorities lately?
4. Remember it is a Global Message. This good news of great joy is “for all the people.” God’s mega message was never intended to just be for one group of people in one part of the world. Yes, God’s mega message is not just for those you like or love or that look like you or believe like you or are simply from this community. God’s good news of great joy is for all the people. It is “joy to the world.” And that world is possibly bigger than you want it to be and God wants it to be big.
This season reminds us that we are called to be an outward, mission focused church, not an inward focused church, it is joy to the “world”. I hope you’re already praying about who you can invite to Christmas Eve service and then, yes, and then Christmas Day service.
5. Joy was given to you to change you. Notice scripture said “A Savior has been born to you.” God gave joy to the shepherds and he gives joy to each of us. Think about how this joy happened:
* God came to them where they were.
* God came to them as they were.
* God moved them from where they were.
* God changed them from what they were.
That happened to the shepherds and off they went into town and into the world to tell all the people. I pray that this has happened to you or will happen to you, so it’s time to choose Joy! You see if you want joy, remember that old acronym, Joy stand for Jesus, others, you. Get yourself lined up as God desires and you will have joy.