JOY 2012 Christmas
This year, Christ's arrival into the world is described by Luke, that master story-teller of sequels where we get to write the trilogy through our actions in the World.
Luke's story of our Saviour is in two parts and Luke's sequel, the book of Acts, challenges us to celebrate not only his 'gospel birth of Christ' but the acts that make for the birth of the church.
Whatever we discover about the nativity of our Lord from Luke, we are challenged to embrace for our lives as disciples.
I want for us to discover that Luke's first Christmas day, is our call to joy.
Luke commissions us into the Christian life as a people unafraid of emotion and big about celebration. In Luke's gospel people sing for joy, laugh with joy and rejoice in praise. Even those not yet born, like John, leap, in utero, for joy, at the presence of our Saviour carried by his mother's cousin Mary.
Today, our right response to the arrival of Jesus, is to similarly leap for joy.
There are more descriptions of joy in Luke's gospel than in any other book in the New Testament. People are found rejoicing and giving glory to God and praising Him more here than anywhere. Luke's gospel really is a Gospel of Joy.
In the first two chapters of this best-seller, we are enchanted by a cast-list who all express joy – from the unborn, leaping John, already mentioned, to the soul-singer Mary with her Magnificat, to the shepherds, transfixed with eyes heavenward and then, of course, Simeon, if we read on, singing for joy that he sees the Saviour at last.
Songs of joy, leaps of joy, messages of joy – angels to shepherds with an announcement of great joy... There is an intensity of emotion communicated by Luke, a very real joy, a joy that can banish fear: a joy, that if we choose to live it out, will have us too become a people less afraid.
...less afraid of what tomorrow brings ----- for shepherds dared take their eyes off their livelihood for the sake of Christ, trusting lambs to safety so that they can encounter the lamb of the world ....
...less afraid about what people think of us, -----for Mary sacrificed both reputation and honour to carry the Christ-child as an unwed mother.
...less afraid of the future----- for wise men follow a star and encounter one very ruthless and bloodthirsty king before they meet their real King, marked only by grace, shedding blood for the sins of the world.
If we listen with Luke and watch the nativity through his eyes, we will sense a joy that can change our lives and the world in which God has placed us.
If we wonder whether the command to be joy-filled is too triumphalistic in a world where suffering abounds...
...if we doubt whether these promises of joy could possibly be reserved for us
...if we dare only a little bit to live the 'joy-filled life,' then we must fix our eyes on the baby who grows up, whom Luke describes in chapter ten as this 'Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit.'
Jesus himself is full of joy in this gospel, our Jesus, who knew the depths of suffering like no one else.
In fact, in this gospel, joy can not be so keenly felt unless we have also experienced a little suffering...
...the one devastated over a lost sheep will joyfully put it on his shoulders and call his friends and neighbours to “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”
...a coin is lost and in its finding lies great joy and the call again to neighbours to celebrate
...a prodigal Son, missing and assumed dead, returns home at last and nothing less than the most extravagant of banquets is the response.
Jesus calls us to joy because in this way we participate in overcoming suffering and we most obviously imitate the life that is going on in heaven with the rejoicing there over each lost sinner found.
It is only Luke who tells us of Zaccheus converted and filled with joy by a Jesus who will come to his home and eat with him.
There is nothing we can can do to stop our Lord wanting to come and eat with us, make home with us, take his place at table with us. His is a joyful hospitality that knows no bounds. He rejoices over each one of us. The experience of joy is a hall mark of the salvation Jesus brings, a joy he shares as he experiences it with us.
As we travel from the joy of the nativity to the suffering of the cross, Luke concludes with joy again, a lasting joy that we share with those encountering the Risen Christ.
Christian joy is also a mark of the 'risen life.'
Christian joy is not the superficial kind that falls away in testing times, Jesus explains that his truth sown in the shallow soil will give only a temporary thrill that fades away.
Christian joy is not the joy of the world, satiated and swaying under the burden of material excess – Jesus tells us that the superficial joy of riches and possessions is nothing compared to the eternal joy that He has for us.
Luke's Christmas nativity cast list: lowly shepherds, an unmarried mum, a carpenter lad, cousins Elizabeth and Zechariah with ears and eye-sight failing, and Simeon, whom we encounter when we turn the page and read on, in his last years of life—do not appear again in Luke's narrative, but they model for us a right response to the coming of Christ into the world at Christmas.
Jesus' invitation to us today is to imitate the ones we have seen on many a stage-set and take up our rightful place in this God-drama. As we return nativity sets to their boxes and load dishwashers and dry wine glasses as another Christmas passes, we are to be defined by a joy that will make the world out there curious about the hope that lives within us, that sees us rejoicing too over lost things that are found, over invitations accepted, over family members reconciled to us this day as we eat together and later over traditional dinners with all the trimmings.
We are called to live Christmas every day.
Jesus asks you today if you will let his Holy Spirit fill you with a joy that is real and authentic, deeply felt and eternally present.
Today joy comes to you in the shape of a Saviour born! – 'a little bundle of joy' who grew up to gift us with his life, and birth from himself a church of people marked by joy.