Joy to You and MeLuke 2:8-20Theme: Rejoicing in the promise.This week’s lessons teach us that true joy is found in Christ alone.
LessonThere is no emotion so characteristic of Christmas as joy. The whole atmosphere of Christmas is joyful, and it has been joyful since that very first night when the angels announced their message of joy to the shepherds in Bethlehem. And that’s why we sing about joy so much at Christmas.
But it’s not so easy to define the word joy. The Oxford English Dictionary defines joy as “a vivid emotion of pleasure arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction, the feeling or state of being highly pleased or delighted.” But that doesn’t seem like a very satisfying definition to me. It’s just so joyless. Joy is hard to define because joy is unique.
Usually you can define something or understand something well by considering its opposite. But what is the opposite of joy? It’s not sorrow really. A better opposite to sorrow would be happiness, not joy. Joy goes beyond that, and joy isn’t the opposite of pain either, or melancholy, or discouragement. Joy is unique, and the reason for it, obviously, is that joy is founded in the character of God, who is unique and altogether different from us and from human experience.
We find joy all through the Christmas story. Probably the best-known text in all of the Bible having to do with joy is the announcement of the angels to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” But the announcement of joy that was made to the shepherds evidently was something the angels themselves had already experienced. That’s why they were singing in the night sky above Bethlehem.
The angels knew joy. Later in the story, when Jesus began his ministry, he would speak of there being joy in heaven among the angels over a single sinner who repents. But if the angels rejoice in heaven over a single sinner who repents, then obviously they were rejoicing over the birth of that sinner’s Savior, the one who would be the Savior not only of a solitary sinner, but of a vast company that would join them one day in heaven singing praises to God. So we look at the angels for joy, and we find there an illustration of a heavenly joy.
And then, secondly, there are the shepherds. If the joy of the angels was a heavenly joy, the joy of the shepherds was an earthly and also a very humble joy, because they were just shepherds, after all. The shepherds stood at the low end of the social scale of the day. And yet here were the angels of God coming to them, the shepherds, to announce the greatest news the word has ever heard. These shepherds followed the message of the angel. I’m glad they did. They might have said to themselves, “Oh, this can’t be for us. We might have overheard it, but we’re just shepherds, after all. It must be for the important people – maybe for the king, maybe for the high priest, maybe for the wealthy, but not for us.” But they didn’t say that. They obeyed the voice of the angel.
The shepherds went to Bethlehem, and they found Mary, and Joseph, and the baby just as the angel had said they would. One of the things the angel had told them they would find was the baby lying in a manger, and that may be one particular cause of their joy, because it meant that Jesus had come down to their level. If Jesus had been born in a palace, the shepherds would never have gotten in to see him. They would have been turned away at the door. And the same would have been true of the courts of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, the innkeeper would probably have turned them away, just as he turned away Mary and Joseph, but not because the inn was full – just because they were shepherds. If Jesus had been born in any of those other places, the shepherds would never have gained admission. Yet here was Jesus in a stable, where even shepherds could come, and their joy was full.
What is the difference between joy and happiness?
Name all the characters that express joy in the Christmas narrative found in Luke 1.
Why were the shepherds so joyful?
Why were the angels singing in the night sky over Bethlehem?