Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Eve Sermon

There are many words used to describe this time of year. Within our culture people will tell you that Christmas is their favorite holiday. When asked to describe how one experiences this season, they will tell you it is filled with “happiness”, “contentment”, “laughter”, “memories”, “busy-ness”, “warmth”, and so on. One of the words I hear most often used to describe this season, especially within the church realm is joy.

When you look up the word joy, you will find Webster defines it as “the emotion evoked by well being, success, or good fortune”…you will also see a secondary definition listed stating that it is a “state of happiness or felicity”.

In considering the Christmas celebrations we hold in our homes, surrounded by the presents, extravagant meals we bake, and the decorations that adorn our tables, shelves, and walls, the joy we experience from these things work well within Webster’s idea of what joy is. This kind of joy does indeed bring about some sense of success and happiness to our lives.

Where Webster tends to falter however, I believe, is when we come upon the story of that Christmas eve so many years ago. When the angel appeared to the shepherds on that night and proclaimed, “do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” For here, in this story, we learn about a different kind of joy. It is not your ordinary kind of joy, it is great joy, proclaimed to us from the highest realm, from the messengers of God to the ordinary people, sharing the good news that a savior has come.

For you see, the problem with Websters idea of joy is it has a hard time getting past the realm of something that is self-induced. Within our culture, we scramble to make our own joy, to find our own joy. This is why so often walmart parking lots are full, Christmas parties are abundant, and the bars are always packed…people are trying to find real, pure joy.

Real joy, true joy, is not something we can make ourselves. It is not found under the Christmas tree, in driving out to do our Christmas shopping. We don’t find it in the hundreds of goodies we get to eat throughout the season or even in the Christmas specials we watch on television. While we can find some form of joy in these activities, how long can it last? 15 minutes? An hour? When the television goes off, when the last cookie is eaten, or the last gift is unwrapped, we will again find ourselves empty and void, with the little high worn off and will be reminded that self induced joy is not the real thing.

The real joy that we receive is not a product or even a byproduct of something. It is not a spinoff of something or the generic brand; it is indeed true and authentic. It is why we are all gathered here on this evening. It is the reason for the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds.

True joy is a gift, given to us simply because of our loving God. It is the good news humanity had been waiting for, longing for, or as scripture says, “groaning for like a women in labor pains.” We had been anxiously praying for the coming Messiah, the savior who would free us from our sinful selves.

This was something we had learned overtime was the kind of joy we could not do on our own. Humanity had learned the hard way that this was not the self-induced kind of joy; it had to be the real thing. We needed to wait for God’s help, for we were fully dependent upon his grace. And so we waited, anxiously, yearning, for the day that the Messiah would come and bring us the true joy, the real thing. And finally, it had come in the form of a baby in a manger.

For you see, this is real joy. It is something that happened to us, to humanity. It wasn’t because of something we achieved. We didn’t do anything to earn it. We didn’t do anything that was deserving of the Christ child. Jesus’ coming was solely a gift, given to us because of God’s love. The joy we experience is our response to the gift that we have received.

We are joyful because we know the bad news. We know that without God’s love, without this Christ child, there is no way we could free ourselves from our sin. We know that we are in bondage. The reality that without Jesus coming, we would be condemned to death is something we all face. Knowing the truth of our situation makes the situation so much greater. It makes the joy so much greater.
The birth of Christ is a story that is about joy, true joy. It is about joy at its purest form. When we understand the joy of Christ’s birth, it brings about a greater understanding of what joy means in other areas of our lives. At the birth of a new child. When we go in for medical tests. At the death of a loved one. At a birthday celebration. At the homecoming of a grown child. At an Easter celebration. At Sunday worship. At a gathering of friends. As we sit down for dinner.

We can understand real joy during good and the bad times, the large celebrations and the small ones, in a new light. For Christ is with us in all times and in all places, and his birth message is given to us all.

For Christ’s joy is for everyone to experience because the good news of great joy is for all the people. The Savior, Jesus Christ, is for everyone. Not just those of us who are sitting here this evening but those who are not in worship as well. Not just the reverent, but the irreverent, too. Not just the righteous, but the unrighteous.

It is important for us to understand that God’s message is for all of us, in all times and in all places. The real joy Christ brings is for everyone. If you believe you’re beyond help, know the real joy that the Christ child is the helper of those in need of help. If you believe you’re past grace, know the real joy that the Christ child has given to you his grace. If you believe you’re out of hope, know the real joy that the Christ child has come to restore your hope. If you believe there is no way out of your situation, know the real joy the Christ child has come to take you by the hand and lead you home. Amen.


Brown Family said...

I've been missing you posting! I love this post. Our church leaders gave a talk in early December that said no matter how commercial Christmas becomes, it is about Christ if you keep Him in your heart. I wish there were only a way to help more people receive this joy you speak of, because it is among the greatest of all gifts we have been promised. Hope you have a wonderful 2010! (And that maybe it includes a trip to visit your crowd of cousins ... :)

Bruce & Sylvia said...

I too have missed your blog posts. I agree with you 100%.
This year we had a very wonderful Christmas with no hassle or shopping.
We spent our time working hard on our mission. It has been a great experience. Love you alot