(For Gaudete Sunday – 3rd Sunday in Advent)
All over the city there are signs of joy. There is music pealing from stores, homes, businesses & churches. There are lights of myriad colours on countless buildings giving outward expression to celebration. People that have been tight-fisted all year are now spending money on others with careless abandon. Homes that have been empty of company throughout the year, are now thronging with guests. There is laughter and merriment pervading the very air.
Luke the Gospel writer shares in the very same act of celebration. The coming of Jesus Christ was for him an occasion of joy and jubilation. Let us to take a quick scan of the first two chapters of his Gospel.
The Prevalence of Joy
Notice how prevalent the theme of Joy is, in the stories that Luke shares with us.
The Conception & birth of John the Baptist.
1:14. The first note of joy comes from the Angel Gabriel who is announcing the conception of John the Baptist. He says to the aged Zechariah, “You shall have joy and gladness and many shall rejoice at his birth.”
1:19. And before that conversation is ended Gabriel says “I have come to show you glad tidings.”
1:44. Not only is there this celebration of Joy at the announcement of the conception of John, notice the joy when Mary & Elisabeth meet six months later. Elisabeth the senior citizen soon-to-be-mother says “As soon as the voice of your salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” Even a not-yet-born child is caught up in celebration.
1:58. Soon the baby is born and “when the neighbours and cousins heard… they rejoiced with her.”
1:64. When John the Baptist is born, Zechariah who has been mute for nine months suddenly can speak and the records tell us that “he spoke and praised God.” And then he sings a song of celebration that begins, “Blessed be the God of Israel” – known as the “Benedictus”.
The rejoicing at the conception & birth of Jesus.
Not only are there celebrations of joy at the birth of John the Baptist, but notice the joy in the conception and birth of Jesus.
The angel Gabriel comes to a virgin girl, Mary and tells her that she is to be the mother of the Messiah. At first she is afraid and puzzled. She comes to accept it, but probably needing someone to talk with, goes to see her cousin Elisabeth. It is then that the significance of her call to be the mother of the Messiah sinks in and Mary breaks into song, known as “The Magnificat”.
1:46-47. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.” And joy reigns in a young girl’s heart.
Several months later Jesus is born in Bethlehem. In the fields there are Shepherds tending their flocks. And suddenly the glory of God blazes forth and an angel speaks:
2:10. “Do not be afraid, behold I bring you news of great joy for all people.” and almost before he is finished, the heavens blaze with a brighter glory. It is almost as though upon hearing the words of their spokesman, the angelic hosts are over-come with anticipation and are impelled to break their silence. Hear what Luke says:
2:13 “And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth Peace.”
The shepherds immediately drop what they were doing and hurry to Bethlehem to see the babe, and upon seeing him, fear and wonder turn to celebration, and Luke writes,
2:20. “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
Eight days later the parents take the young baby to the temple. There they meet an elderly man named Simeon. Led by God he takes the young child in his arms and he too breaks out into song,
2:28. He blessed God and said “Now let your servant depart in peace… for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
And before that conversation is finished a woman in her eighties, named Anna, came in and when she saw the child she stops and….
2:38 “she began to praise God and spoke of the child to all who looked for redemption.”
An increasing chorus of joy cascades throughout these two chapters. It actually occurs throughout the entire Gospel of Luke. It is present in almost every chapter and every event. For Luke, joy is one of the great evidences that Messiah has come.
The Circumstances that Diminish the Joy.
Ah yes. Joy! But that was then, and this is now.
It is a bit more difficult to celebrate these days. We are now more aware of global starvation. We are aware that war and terrorism has become incessant. We are more aware of violence in our cities, and corruption in our politicians. We see families disintegrating, drugs taking their toll on our teens, the pornographic plague obsessing the minds of too many men, and child abuse taking its terrible toll. New diseases are spreading fear and feelings of helplessness, and religion appears to have lost much of its ancient appeal.
So how do we celebrate Christmas without putting our heads in the sand?
But then we must ask the same question of those in that ancient world. How could they be filled with Joy? They lived in a world of enemy occupation. Roman soldiers were hardly kindly souls. It was a world where hunger and famine were not something read about in news items from distant lands, but was an ever present reality on one’s own very door step. It was a time when the religions of the nations had become bankrupt.
But when the events of that first Christmas unrolled, the people close to the events, celebrated with joy and gladness. Why? What gave them that perspective on their problems?
Joy in the Coming Redemption
Their joy came out of the deep conviction they had about Jesus.
Elisabeth in her response of joy says “Why should the mother of MY LORD come to me?” (1:43) What kind of logic is this to call Mary’s unborn son her Lord. Mary is no Queen, no princess. Elisabeth obviously sees more than is apparent on the surface. The unborn child is to be her Sovereign Lord.
Listen to Mary as she sings her Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” Mary is aware that her young child is somehow connected with God’s act of saving the world.
Listen to Zechariah. As a priest he may have been more familiar with the reason the world needed a Messiah. Though a son has been born to him, and is a matter of joy in itself, Zechariah gives the primary praise for the One his son will one day announce. He sings:
He has visited and redeemed his people
He has raised up a horn of salvation
He has saved us from our enemies
He has come to give the knowledge of salvation
To give light to those who sit in darkness.
He rejoices because the Redemption of the world has begun.
Listen to the angels: “For unto you is born A SAVIOUR, which is Christ the Lord.” All heaven sings because the Redeemer has come.
Listen to Simeon. “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people.”
And then there is Anna. “She spoke about him to all who looked for redemption.”
There is one clear note sounded in all these songs of celebration. The Saviour has come. The Lord has come. The Redeemer-deliverer has come. Why celebrate? Because…
- In the face of great evil, there has come a great good.
- In the maelstrom of world tyranny, there has come a rescuer.
- In the middle of the suffering, there can be hope.
- In the middle of upheaval. there can be happiness.
- In the middle of the darkness, a small candle has been lit that in time will be a light to the world.
- With the birth of that baby the great reversal that redeems life has begun.
There is joy because Jesus came to redeem all of life, for all of humanity.
Here is the early result:
- On the day of his birth, he took a stable and made a cathedral out of it.
- He took a young peasant girl, and made her a person admired by the world.
- Later he would take 12 little men, and make giants out of them.
- On Good Friday, he would take a cross, and make it a means of redemption for the world.
- On Easter Sunday he would take a borrowed tomb, and make it the door to eternal life.
Jesus has come to redeem all of life. And that is also true for you and I.
I am not sure of the pattern of your life these days.
I am not sure if circumstances have been easy or hard.
I am not sure if you have surrendered to sin and stress, and now live with guilt and shame, or whether in the struggle you have come out victorious, but battered and tired.
But whatever condition you find yourself in, I would turn your attention to Jesus the redeemer of life. Because of Him, you and I can have a joy that does not whither with the holy. We can have a peace that is not shattered by every twist of circumstance.