December 24, 2007
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2.10-11
The 2006 movie, The Nativity, was a movie about the events leading up to and the birth of Jesus. One particular scene stuck in my mind. The scene was profound mostly for what it revealed about the way in which Christians have come to interpret what happened.
When the angel appeared to the shepherds in the field, as in the scene depicted above, the angel stood above them and the best Hollywood attempt at divine light and glory shone from behind him. The terrified shepherds huddled and looked up at the angel, and the angel spoke the words from the King James Version, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…” The words of the angel were somber, serious words that attempted to convey the eternal authority and power of the arrival of the Savior. But look at the words: good news of great joy. Joy!
Everything in the Scriptures indicates that, from the time of the Fall forward, we have missed the point. Human beings continually misconstrue God and His actions. For the most part, we are errant, immature children who try our best, often for the wrong causes and never with the greatest wisdom and effectiveness. Nowhere is that confusion more evident than in the droning, monotonous proclamation by the angel in the movie, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…”
The tragically absurd reality is most of us did not notice because that is how we perceive the message that our Father is sending us in Jesus Christ. This is somber, serious business, an eternal mandate to huddle before the holy God Who has condescended to be born among us. Our interpretation does match what the angel actually said. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today a Savior has been born to you…” When we encourage someone not to be afraid, when we tell someone good news, do we do so with a monotonous intonation of profundity and importance?
We miss the point! This is good news of great joy! Even we who are sinful have sufficient compassion to be gentle when dealing with another’s fears. How much more would God’s emissary be gentle with the shepherds? And if His angels are gentle with fears, how much greater is our Father’s gentleness with our fears? When we share good news with one another, are we not enthusiastic, excited and happy? How would anyone know that the good news of Jesus’ birth was really good news, coming from an emotionless, disinterested messenger? God is not emotionless, nor is He distant and disinterested. The angel in the movie sounded as if he were bringing bad news of a Judge of all people rather than good news of a Savior.
My fear is that, in spite of the message we have to share, we sound more like the angel in the movie than the angel who appeared to the shepherds. That is likely the case because so few of us found the movie’s representation of events offensive. Too often our proclamation to the world is closer to condemnation than joy. I do not doubt that God judges, but what if we are judged for taking a message of great joy, a message of salvation, and turning it into a somber, monotonous, heavy burden on the hearts of people?
The heart of the Christian message is the proclamation of joy. The birth of Christ is an announcement of joy and the conclusion of the Gospel is the great joy of the disciples as they returned to Jerusalem. (Luke 24.52) Moreover, there is no possibility of joy apart from Jesus Christ. We can know pleasure, and we can feel happiness, but both are fleeting. Joy is ineradicable. It cannot be destroyed because it is the completion of a relationship rather than a set of circumstances. We enter into the joy of our Lord. (Matthew 25.21) To be in the presence of Jesus Christ is to enter into His joy.
There is no question that our God grieves over our fallen state and the misery we visit upon each other, but I suspect that He grieves less than we imagine. Salvation belongs to our God, and the sorry, sad state of affairs we often produce are but temporary difficulties in the eternal life of God. However, for all eternity and in every time and place in history, our God is a joyful God. Joyful! We have forgotten! (Did we ever know?)
The victory of Christianity in the world is the victory of joy – joy in spite of the darkness and fallen nature of every civilization and historical epoch. The credibility of Christianity rests upon the invincible joy of our Lord. All of the best theological minds in the world cannot compare to the powerful witness of a joyful Christian. The visible joy of the Lord among His children bears witness to Christianity’s divine truth.
To know Christ is to experience joy. The Christian message begins and ends with joy, and the witness we have to the world is the joy into which we have entered and from which we cannot be severed. Yes, life is hard. There are tough breaks and difficult times. Sin and evil visit our lives and our world in cruelty, misery, sorrow and horror. Precisely because that is true, joy is the triumph of Christ in the world.
As the angel, “I bring you good news of great joy! A Savior has been born to you.” Accept the greatest gift ever given: enter into His joy.
In Christ –
© 2007 Servants’ Feast Ministry
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