Luke2v10: JOY TO THE WORLD
An angel appeared to a group of Shepherds on a Judean hillside and announced, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy." Now I don't know if any of the shepherds were much interested in the state of the nation. If they were they might well have thought that for the ordinary Jew there was precious little to be joyful about. God seemed to have forgotten all about them. For 400 years there had been no prophetic voice - nobody to proclaim God's truth in the power of his Spirit. Religion was highly legalistic. It consisted of arguing about how to interpret the Law and making it harder and harder to keep. The country had been overrun by the Greeks and then by the Romans. Matthew Arnold wrote this about the Greeks and Romans:
On that hard world disgust and secret loathing fell,
Today things are hardly any better. Notwithstanding huge advances in Science and Technology and the growth in personal wealth there has been no improvement in the human heart. Strikes are called at this time of year to cause maximum inconvenience to the long suffering public. Terrible things are happening all over the world in the name of religion. In Britain we have a divided and declining church. It sometimes feels as if we have been abandoned by the Holy Spirit. So, what is the joy of Christmas? I believe there are four things that should give us joy. They are:
(1) The story is so perfect.
I rarely laugh for joy! But when I hear the late, great Irishman, Joe Dolan sing: 'It's you, it's you, it's you' - I laugh with joy. I am joyful because the performance is sheer perfection. Everything is so right. The tune suits Joe's high voice. He looks the part - dressed in white with just a few drops of sweat on his brow. The backing group of two mature ladies enhance his distinctive voice. The orchestra, with its fair compliment of brass instruments, plays at just the right tempo. The lighting makes Joe glow. It is wonderful - it magical. I love it!
The Christmas story is like that - wonderful, magical - so right. God the babe was born in a stable, laid in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. Jesus was born as prophesied in the village of Bethlehem - the city of promise. The angels sang to a group of low life rustics. The scallywags hurried off to find the babe. He wasn't hard to find as there were few inns in Bethlehem. After a few days Joseph and Mary take the babe to the Temple where two old dears, Simeon and Anna, rejoice to see their hearts desire. Later the wise men from the east turn up bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
What a delightful story. It is so charming that it has given rise to numerous nativity plays. Even in secular Britain the school nativity play is popular. People, including non-Chrisians, love singing carols because they capture the joy of Christ's advent - the hope of a better life.
(2) The gift is so precious.
On a lovely May day I visited Ely to see my great niece, Lydia. She is my brother Philip's and his wife Sandra's first grandchild. Lydia was only a few weeks old but I was given her to hold. It was a joyful experience. I know that sometimes the pleasure in holding a baby is rather spoiled when it vomits all over you. But such was not the case on this occasion. Why did Lydia bring such joy?
A baby is a precious gift - to parents, grandparents and, indeed, the world. Every new born babe has the potential to contribute to human well being. Who knows what Lydia will contribute.
When old Simeon in the temple reached out and took hold of baby Jesus for himself, he saw his potential. He said: "For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel."
God's gift to the world is beautifully summed up in the words of the much loved carol, 'Oh little town of Bethlehem':
How silently, how silently,
(3) The need is so pressing.
I visited my old friend and brother, Peter Chaffey, about a month before his death. I went with his wife, Edna, to the care home where he ended his days suffering from prostate cancer and dementia. While I was there a very young and pretty woman carer came and gave Peter a big hug. Then she hugged Edna and finally she hugged them both. The reaction of the carer to Peter and Edna gave me a flash of joy. She was giving them something both, and especially Edna, needed during a very difficult time. It was a little love - and nothing is more reassuring than love.
George Smith lost his job. He locked the office door for the last time and headed home. His wife was out. She had left him a message: 'I've gone shopping. Be home late.' George slumped into an arm chair feeling very sorry for himself.
That is where his little daughter found him when she returned from school. She asked, "How come you are home so early dad." George had to tell her that he had lost his job. His daughter jumped into his lap, hugged him tight, pressed her soft, warm face against his, gave him the sweetest kiss and said, "Oh daddy, I love you so much."
George Smith revived. He realised he had what he really wanted - his family. He was loved and in loving and being loved he found self-worth, self-respect and self-dignity.
On the 19th December 2016 I read the obituary of Helen Roseveare in the Daily Telegraph. She worked as a medical missionary to the Congo between 1953 and 1973. In 1964 civil war broke out in the Congo. Helen was arrested and imprisoned. On October 29th 1964 her brutal and drunken captors raped her. "On that dreadful night," she wrote, "beaten and bruised, terrified and tormented, unutterably alone, I had felt at last God had failed me." But just as she reached a point where she could go no lower, she found her faith restored. "God met with me," she wrote, "with outstretched arms of love. It was an unbelievable experience: he was so utterly there, so totally understanding, his comfort was so complete - and suddenly I knew - I really knew that his love was unutterably sufficient."
Very few have an experience like Helen Roseveare but to have real peace of heart and a sense of well-being we need to know that we are loved by God.
We should be joyful at Christmas because the babe of Bethlehem shows us that we are so loved. God so loved the world that he gave us his one and only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life.
The great apostle Paul could write: I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal2v20. That was definitely one of my father's favourite texts. He would often quote it from the pulpit. Then he would say, "My friend, can you say that, can you say, 'He loved me and gave himself for me.'" And always my father would emphasise the 'ME'.
The angels told the shepherds, the Jewish low life, "For unto YOU is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." For you, for you, FOR YOU.
(4) The outcome is so productive.
One brief news item caught my eye and gave me joy in 2016. In Syria and Iraq Christians have been persecuted. Many have fled from ISIS. But some remain in Iraq - and this is what I read about this remnant:
One Iraqi Christian quoted: "I want my fellow Iraqis to know that we are not guests. Our ancestors helped build this country. Treat me as a sister, not a guest."
The Iraqi church has provided help to thousands of displaced people with shelter, food and long-term support including trauma care and micro-loans. Another leader said, "Christians are helping Muslims, Yazidis, Sabeans .... everyone. We're not just for us, but for the broken, the weak."
That gave me joy. Iraqi Christians are helping the needy - whoever they are - for Christ's sake. That is one of the outcomes of Christ coming into this world. The motivation for so many charities worldwide, for so many good deeds, is Jesus. It is his legacy. As the hymn puts it:
Blessings abound where-er He reigns;