And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of 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.
Luke 2:8-11 (English Standard Version)
As we start to segue from Advent to Christmas (in just over two days), this particular verse struck at me this evening. I was thinking about Issac Watts’ hymn, “Joy to the World” and this verse, when I wondered about “joy.” What is so special about joy-especially at this time of the year?
What’s so special about joy when you have people trying to hold on to soul-crushing jobs, making less than what they’re worth; so they can keep a house which mortgage is underwater; so they can keep their family relatively comfortable. When you have yet to see “Peace on Earth, Good will to Men (and Women)” when violence is around the corner as well as across the globe. When you have more bad news than good on your news outlets-even at this time of the year. When retail profit and greed outpace aforesaid peace and goodwill. What’s so special about joy?
Joy is not just for Christmas time when you’re with friends and family, enjoying the Holiday season. It’s not when you get all you want under the tree (in my case, it would more interesting than joy). No my friends, Joy is what the Divine places in each and every one of us so that we’ll have a blessed center that keeps us in the good and bad times. Joy is that internal fullness that is not contingent upon events or external sources; as the song says, “the world didn’t give it, and the world can’t take it away.” In fact (to me), it’s one of those Divine things that we cannot fully explain; we can only experience it
Tonight’s text takes place just after the birth of Jesus the Christ-God’s light that came into our dark world. In the same region where Jesus was born, there were shepherds tending watch over their flocks. Now we’re not talking about Lil’ Bo Peep. Shepherds in Jesus’ time were on the low end of the profession pole. Shepherd’s were a dirty lot, handling smelly sheep day in and day out. They were a rough lot as well-having to sleep outdoors, wander all over the land for grazing, and having to defend the flock against thieves and wild animals. Not the kind of cats you’d meet at a white-collar professional mixer.
That night, the shepherd’s were out watching their sheep. Probably sharing a skin of wine (or two), bullshitting, and trying to catch a wink or two. When suddenly an angel of the Lord appears! Now for those who’ve skimmed through their Bibles, when an angel shows up it usually means something big is about to go down. This explains why the shepherds had their “Oh Shit!” moment. However, the angel brings the shepherds a different message; a message of great joy. The joy that will burst through their seemingly meaningless lives and give them that center that goes beyond meaning…
…That “center” that night was Jesus the Christ. What interested me (and a whole bunch of theologians) was that the shepherds were the first people outside to hear about Jesus’ birth; and to hear it from the angels instead of local reports. God decided to tell humanity about His/Her bringer of joy, light, and love through the lowest of ancient blue-collar workers; not though royalty or the religious elites. God chose the marginalized over the managers!
“Okay Dangerous One, that’s a fine and dandy story,” You may say, “What about today-20 centuries later?” Glad you asked. You see, this joy from days past is still being offered to us today. Like the shepherd’s of old, many of us are still among the marginalized. Many of us are trying to survive in a world in flux: politically, socio-economically, and spiritually-bereft of resources by those who think they’re in charge. We still need that joy. We need that Divine internal center, that indwelling knowing which will take us through this strange age; and keep us from losing our heads. That joy which speaks of God’s light and life in our lives through the Christ that dwells in us.
After this crazy year I had-in every sense of the word-I need that joy to keep me from losing my mind. That “joy unspeakable that’s full of glory” as the gospel song tells us. That joy that can well up inside us like a bubbling spring and then burst forth like a geyser.
That’s what special about joy-that “joy to the world,” the “news of great joy” the angels said that long ago night.
Joy to the World; and to you my friends. Peace.