December 24, 2019, Birth of Joy, by Reverend David Tatgenhorst
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the birth of joy into our midst. Where are you in touch with a deep and abiding joy in your life that helps to sustain you, keep you going? That’s the place where you know Christ the Savior is born.
The Birth of Joy
Good news of great joy!
At St. Luke we start almost every meeting with good news – asking people what good news they have that they’d like to share with folks. Sometimes people share really significant, even life-changing news – like finding out they are healed. Even then, they rarely say, good news of great joy. Sometimes they say something that is mundane, but relevant to the moment, like finding the right gift for somebody or feeling good. And sometimes we can’t think of anything except crummy news. Everything seems to be going wrong. And sometimes sharing that helps too.
In this passage, the good news is great joy for you. Who is the ‘you’ in this passage? The angel says, “I come to proclaim good news to you” Who is the ‘you’? Immediately in the passage, of course, the ‘you’ is the shepherds. The angels of appeared to them while they tend their flocks. We see it portrayed on Christmas cards and in portrayals. The shepherds outstanding in their fields are the first to get the good news of great joy. The Messiah, the child of God has been born.
Now you may have heard that sheepherding was not a popular, high paying job. It hard, dirty, poorly paid work, a little lower than parking lot attendant. So the ‘you’ that this good news of great joy may also be understood to be poor people, the down and out, the outcast. That fits with the message Jesus gave when he grew up. Just a few chapters later in this same gospel of Luke, chapter 4, Jesus stands in the synagogue to give his first sermon and he starts it out with a quote from Isaiah, “the Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of God’s favor.”
Good news of great joy!
Finally, the ‘you’ is clearly everyone who ever hears this message, everyone who ever reads this story, everyone who has ever been brokenhearted, down and out, hurt or estranged. Everyone who was ever teased; everyone who ever messed up; everyone who ever got lost along the way and stopped feeling like they were respected, cherished, and loved. In other words, of course, the ‘you’ is all of us.
Because all of us need the good news, the encouragement, to know that we are loved with question, appreciated without exception, cherished without reservation. The church doesn’t always even give that message. We sometimes have preached a ‘one-false-move’ God instead of a ‘no-matter-what’ God. But the good news is the good news for all of us, the news that Jesus proclaimed of a ‘no-matter-what’ God. You are loved, you are cherished, you a gift of the Creator.
In a few minutes we are going to sing “Silent Night” and pass the light of good news of the Child to everyone in the room from the one candle up here in front. We invite you to turn your unlit candle to light from the lit candle, so we don’t get wax all over the place, and as the light comes to you, we invite you to reflect on the good news for you, the good news that is for your particular brokenness, your particular heartache, your particular worry. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ good news, but it is universal good news. It is good news just for you.
Peace – the first light that goes out is the light of peace. We get scared and think somebody wants to take away what we have. We believe bad stories about people and about ourselves and we spend everything we have on weapons and locks and police and military, and that peaceful joy is snuffed out right in front of us.
Joy – and with that compromise, we are well on our way to the light of joy going out in our life. We start to lose track of the joy of the Living God that has gifted every breath of our lives and we think we have to find our own few snatches of happiness where we can. We think that entertainment is our only possible happiness, or route to joy. And the light of joy goes out.
Love: And then we start to ration our love. We think love is limited and so we grab what we can and love only the few people we think we can really trust. We try to keep the stranger, the immigrant and the hurting at a distance, because we just don’t have that much to give. And love flickers and dies.
Hope – Then we start to wonder why everything feels so hopeless. The world seems like it’s going downhill and we can’t do anything about it, because we given up on loving, sacrificed our joy, and compromised the peace. No wonder it feels hopeless. And we let that light go out as well.
When we have given up our hope, love, peace and joy, and think that we are at fault, we are to blame, somehow we have sacrificed these paths to the light, we need some help from the outside. It seems like such a small flickering light, this light of the Child born a long time ago. But I tell you what: the light of Jesus Christ is stronger than our worst inclinations, more powerful than every military in the world, a deeper joy for us than any movie or entertainment option out there, a gift of deep and abiding, creative love, just for you. Right here, right now – ready to be there for you on the darkest nights of the year, ready to help you start a new decade with the knowledge of your worth, your belatedness in the sight of the Living God.
This good news is not just 300 years old. This good news is 2000 years old. This is good news from the dawn of creation – a gift of the Creator God, renewed through the birth of joy in the Messiah, given in our very DNA through the power of the Spirit. This is the birth of joy in us all.
We need a silent night in here, we need a reminder of our foundation in joy.
Silent Night, Holy Night