Good News of Great Joy
Text: Luke 2:10
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? It should come as no surprise by now, but there was no magic switch this year that changed things one way or the other. And on top of it all, we had a new term enter our everyday vocabulary: supply chain issues. We learned about shipping delays in an entirely new way, keenly felt during this holiday season as we’ve sent gifts around the world, or waited for deliveries that have been sitting on container boats for weeks. We learned about shortages in a way that most of us haven’t before. And among these shortages, we found a different kind of lack, a deeper lack—not of material goods, but a lack in the soul. We’ve felt something missing, a ration we desperately need but seem to have trouble finding anywhere. Our shortage is joy.
Joy seems to be lacking. Our medical professionals report record levels of mental health problems. Things that we used to find joy in are now dampened, either by restrictions or judgments from others or simply taken away outright. To make matters worse, joy isn’t only harder to find, but it’s also devalued. What used to be a hallmark of life together is now replaced by fear, envy, malaise, anger, and frustration. Just look at the way people talk to each other and interact in public or online now. Judgments thrown back and forth in shouting and mocking tones. Fear looms over every single conversation about anything that would bring an ounce of joy. Any step toward joy is pushed backward by malaise. And when someone is seen taking joy in something, it’s met by jealousy, accusations, and bitterness.
Joy seems to be in short supply. So we do what people have always done in supply shortages: they create and accept substitutes. Thus, in the face of material supply chain issues, we turn up the dial on our consumerism, racing to beat others in getting what we want to buy, hoarding stuff for ourselves, chasing down the next new thing on the market that promises to turn our lives around. We buy stuff to fill the void left by joylessness. I saw a commercial for a retractable hose that someone said “changed their life”—really, a retractable hose advertised to have that power. We hunt down likes and shares on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok, thinking that the approval of the crowd will bring us what we’re missing, trying to connect in some way, but always falling short of genuine connection. That’s because these are all knock-offs of joy. They’re pale imitations. They fade as soon as they spring up, falling apart like the cheap fakes that they are. It goes away as soon as the next thing hits the market that we don’t own, or when the social media feed is updated, or someone else gets something that we wish we had. It’s not joy that we’re hunting with these things, and our souls know it.
What is it then, that makes joy different? Genuine joy seems to be a matter of the deepness of its roots. Think about it—what is it that makes a particularly joyful memory seems joyful, as opposed to merely pleasant? If it’s a sports event, it might be the excitement of the game, but I’m willing to guess that it also has to do with who was there with you, someone you have deep roots with. There’s the joy of being together for some family holiday. The details of what was served for dinner or exactly where everyone sat might be fuzzy, but the joy stands out in the brightest light and clarity. What is it that makes something as simple as a smile just appearing when you’re with friends and loved ones so wonderful, even if you don’t know exactly why? It’s joy, reaching all the way down to the foundation of your relationship. Joy has its roots in your soul, so that even if all the shallow level stuff changes or goes away, even if the storms come, it’s still there. Joy is still able to spring up from the depths of the soul when it’s true and genuine.
And what greater depths do we have as humans than the very thing that makes us all human? It’s our nature, our human nature, at the very core. The old philosophers said that this humanity possessed by us all is what makes us human, our formal principle for any philosophers in the crowd, the thing we all share that makes us who we are, united even as individuals. So at our deepest level, the most fundamental level of what it is to be a human, we have our human nature, the thing that binds us together as a single human race, no matter how differently we look or act or speak or think, or our height or weight, our socioeconomic status, zip code, nationality, or anything.
It is this deepest level of our common humanity that our Lord and God touches tonight. He touches us more than emotionally or sentimentally. We have seasonal songs and TV specials that can do that, which we get tired of before the new year rolls in. No, what Christmas is about, the joy of Christmas, is that God actually touches our human nature. He grabs hold of it and He draws it to Himself. He becomes one with it. And binding Himself to that deepest human level, by taking on and sharing our human nature, being born an infant of the Virgin Mary, He binds Himself to us—to all of us, every single person, no matter how differently we look or act or speak or think, no matter our height or weight, no matter our socioeconomic status, zip code, nationality, or anything.
God has become man. He’s drawn our deepest human nature into Himself. He’s joined us, taken our side, become God-with-us; God-for-us. That means all that is His has become ours. Eternity, life, peace with God, holiness, heaven, the inheritance of the Son of God is ours because He bound Himself to us and will never let go. He’ll never stop being one of us now. And all that was ours: sorrow, sin, death, pain, fear, unrighteous thoughts, words, and deeds—it’s all become His. And He makes the trade gladly. He takes the worst of our human frailties and every wrong committed by us and He’ll bear it all the way to the cross. From the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross, He takes our sin, our death, our hell, and He destroys them as He is crucified. It’s why He’s come, why He united Himself to us, why He is born.
This is the source of our deepest joy. So the angel announces, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” There are those deepest roots. Born to you is a Savior. Christ, who is the Lord is born a baby, taking on our human nature, becoming one of us, becoming one with us. So we have good news—literally, the Gospel—of great joy. That’s joy that’s anchored at our core. It’s joy that doesn’t end with changes, but joy that spreads out to eternity. It weathers the storm. Yes, that joy may look different during different seasons of our lives, and that’s OK, because it’s still lasting. Like a coal banked in ashes, it stays; it gives warmth, light, and comfort. So even if your checking account is running short, fear not! For I bring you good news of great joy. Even if you’re grieving, depressed, anxious, worried, fear not! For I bring you good news of great joy. If you’re ashamed and embarrassed, afraid of your past, your sins, your record, fear not! I bring you good news of great joy. If you’re putting on a brave face but crumbling inside every single day, fear not—I bring you good news of great joy. If you’re wondering when your life will ever get on track, when things will ever get better—fear not, I bring you good news of great joy. No matter what your situation, no matter how bad or how good, no matter how broken or whole, how happy or sad, if you are a human being—fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy. Your God has joined Himself to you and taken your side. He’s taken all that harms and damages you and He’s given you His wholeness, His light, His peace, His life. He’s given you joy.
This does not make light of the pains and griefs we have in this life. No, recognizing this particular kind of joy takes those griefs and pains seriously. Our Lord has taken them so seriously that He’s come to us to carry them for us to the cross. So this is not a Pollyanna, keep-your-head-up-and-just-smile type of pleasantness. It’s not about just looking or sounding a certain way. This is joy, fierce and powerful, strong enough to overcome anything that the world or hell can throw at you. This kind of joy recognizes a God who has come to defeat these things for us and give us eternity. So this joy lasts. Even if it’s buried and kept deep in our hearts, even it has to wait a season before it blooms again, it’s there. It remains as long as Christ does. The shepherds knew this. Shepherds, why this jubilee? How can you be so joyful in the dark of night in a sheep’s pasture? Come to Bethlehem and see. See the One announced by angels, the One who has come to give us life and give it abundantly. Come and see the source of our joy. Come and see the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger; who will be wrapped one day in burial linens and lying in a tomb to take on our pain and grief and death in our place; who will be wrapped in the clouds of glory with our griefs lying under His feet. Come and see the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Come and rejoice. In the name of Jesus, who brings us joy, Amen.