What gives you joy and delight? I’m a Yorkshireman from Bradford in West Yorkshire. So, it gives me great joy every Christmas to get people singing a carol (Christians Awake) sung to the hymn tune “Yorkshire.” Thank you for making my joy complete every year!
More seriously, and more joyfully. For some of us, we will find joy in opening presents. There’s the joy of something new to wear, watch, listen to, play with. There’s the joy of knowing that the person who gave you the present loves you enough to care about you. Even if the present isn’t perfect, it’s the thought that counts. There’s the joy of seeing others open presents and the excitement in their eyes and shrieks of delight as they find out what is inside all the wrapping paper.
This Christmas we’ve been talking about all the wonderful gifts that come wrapped up with the gift of Jesus, eternal life, forgiveness, peace with God, safety & security …and still to come, hope. Today’s gift is joy.
The angel said to the shepherds “We bring news of great joy” -joyful news, joy itself. Notice that he says this in response to the shepherd’s fear. This crops up through the Christmas story. I’m not surprised they were afraid. I’d be afraid if an angel turned up, shining brightly. I’d be afraid to receive the news Mary and Joseph received. It is an awesome thing.
If God’s heavenly messenger showed up here this morning we might be frightened. If we knew that God himself was going to show up, then this might be terrifying for some of us. As we saw last Sunday and the week before, there’s this problem called sin. We have failed to love God as he deserves, to love him with all our hearts. We’ve failed to love each other, hurting with our words and actions, resenting in our thoughts. We’ve not looked after this beautiful world that God gave us to look after. We’ve filled the oceans with plastic bag, pumped toxic gases into the air and hunted animals to extinction. We’ve fought terrible wars and allowed the weakest and most vulnerable to be exploited.
If God has come, he has every right to judge and to condemn.
But the angel said to the shepherds “Don’t be afraid. I bring joyful news.”
So, we have seen that Jesus came to forgive us and give us peace with God, to bear our guilt and shame so that we could stand before God, justified, clothed in Christ’s righteousness. We have discovered that this means that when Jesus comes back, if we have trusted in him that although we deserve judgement and Hell, we will have eternal life with him forever -and next week we’ll discover more about this hope.
That’s the cause of joy. The relief of knowing I am not condemned and the happiness of knowing I am loved, welcomed, forgiven.
So …what is our response? You know, one of the carols says “What can I give him … poor as I am” and concludes “Yet what I can, I give him, give him my heart.” There is truth in that. God calls us to love him with our whole hearts but there is a risk. I can think that I give him my life to do something for him, maybe out of gratitude. But actually … I have nothing worth offering to him. Those wise men may have thought that their gifts were precious and special, fitting for a king but some money and some smellies might be okay as a stocking filler. However they are nothing to the King of Kings whose glory fills the heavens. They are a small token to give back to the one who made and owns the whole creation.
Another older hymn says “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling.”
The beauty of the Christmas message, the joy and delight we find is in knowing that God has acted to give us the best gift of all, his Son Jesus.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”