The arrival of Advent and Christmas can sometimes present a dilemma. On the one hand, we are eager to commemorate the earth-shattering reality of Jesus’ birth into the world. Most of us welcome opportunities to celebrate with family, to exhibit generosity, and to (hopefully) take a few days off and retreat from a frenzied pace of life. Many of us are eager to consider the wonder and significance of God’s Son becoming human, identifying with our sorrows, and offering Himself to heal our deepest wounds.
On the other hand, sometimes we’re also perplexed: It’s hard to know how to embrace the fullness of this story if the circumstances of our life exist in stark contrast to the happiness this season invites. How do we celebrate with abandon when we are aware (every bit as much on March 25th and August 25th as on December 25th) that this world can be a fearful and lonely place? What about the grief intertwined with so much of the current human predicament? And how do we reckon with the greed and excess that often grows even more exaggerated during this time of year? Some folks suggest we retreat from gift-giving altogether, the whole affair irreparably sullied by runaway consumerism. Perhaps it’s better to just tone down all the merrymaking.
Read Luke 2:1-14
Before opening your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to take away from this passage. Then read the section, jotting down your first impressions: What questions do you have? Is anything confusing? Which verses speak into your present situation, and how?
Yet from the very beginning, Christmas has been fundamentally about joy—rollicking and unbridled joy. On that first night of Christmas revelry, a radiant angel appeared to a group of shepherds while they were minding their own business, camped under the stars and guarding their flocks. “An angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.” The shepherds dropped to their knees. “They were terribly frightened,” Luke says (Luke 2:8-9). Of course they were.
Seeing the shepherds quivering in their sandals, the celestial messenger spoke to them: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). The angel wanted to deliver two vital pieces of information to those terrified men: First, don’t be afraid; and second, God’s good news floods the world with fabulous joy. These ideas run counter to the messages that often bombard us: 1) Be afraid; and 2) If there is any true joy to be found in this world (which is highly unlikely), we’ll have to find it for ourselves.
From the very beginning, Christmas has been fundamentally about joy—rollicking and unbridled joy.
Of course, the angel was able to speak with such clarity because he possessed the conviction of one who knew the stunning, disruptive, generative force that always accompanies God’s arrival. And in Bethlehem on that very day, he announced, was born the “Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Whenever God arrives, things change—and joy breaks loose. Chaos or uncertainty may seem to have the upper hand, but God is with us (Immanuel), and He tells a different story. (See Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23.) Sadness, disappointment, or anxiety may dog us for a time, but because the Lord is with us, joy wins the day. So whenever we sing “Joy to the World,” we should belt it out with real vigor, because it is good news to the world that something amazing has happened.
Write your thoughts in a journal.
• Read the story of the shepherds a second time (Luke 2:8-14). Though most of us are far removed from personal experience of their line of work, consider the rigors of that lifestyle. What’s more, the men who tended flocks in first-century Judea were held in low esteem. What factors do you imagine may have threatened their joy?
• The literal meaning of the word gospel is “good news.” With this in mind, read Mark 16:15. Why do we see the gospel as good news in this context? Reflect on the connection between Mark’s wording (“Go into all the world”) and the angel’s declaration in Luke 2:10 that the good news he brings will ignite joy “which will be for all the people.” What does it say about God that His heart includes everyone in joy’s embrace?
Sadness, disappointment, or anxiety may dog us for a time, but because the Lord is with us, joy wins the day.
• Read Luke 4:43. What do you see about Jesus’ heart and intentions here? How does this theme reach all the way back to the shepherds and the angel? How does it reach forward to us?
• In which areas of life are you most desperate for God’s good news? Do you have a relationship that requires healing? A situation of injustice in need of His intervention? Does apiece of your story seem too shattered for the Lord to mend? What in the accounts of Jesus’ birth and early years (Matt. 1:18-25, Matt. 2:1-23; Luke 2:1-40) speaks hope into your situation?
• What is your response to the general idea of joy? Do you feel yourself drawn to joy or suspicious of it? Is it difficult for you to embrace joy? Why or why not?
• Remembering the angel’s words to the shepherds, how do you think fear and joy are related? In what way do these emotions work against each other? Which one are you listening to more these days? To what do you attribute this?
• Think of one or two people you would describe as joyful. Reflect on how they live their life and the way they face challenging circumstances. If possible, have conversations with them and ask what fosters joy in their heart.
• Find the lyrics to the Christmas carol “Joy to the World.” Read them slowly twice. Pause on any phrase or idea that catches your imagination. Each week until Christmas, take one line and meditate on it.
• Look for one place (or experience) of joy this week. Give yourself fully to it.