Sunday, December 13, 2020

Third Sunday of Advent Message - Joy

As we look forward to the third week of Advent, we see the pink candle. This candle symbolizes joy and happiness. For a small child, Christmas is a time of lights and presents. Children around the world are filled with joy and happiness as they look forward to that wonderful day. Presents are starting to surround Christmas trees which are covered with lights, ornaments and tinsel and crowned with stars. Stockings on Christmas Eve will be filled to the brim with candy, small toys and little items for little fingers. In short, homes will be filled with the joy and happiness of the season. 

But, where does the real joy and happiness come from? Does it come from the presents, stockings or the tree? We often get so caught up in the trappings of the season and tie our joy and happiness to the material part of Christmas. We often forget the real joy and happiness of the season and where they come from. 

Aside from being the candle of joy, the third Advent candle is also known as the shepherd’s candle. The joyous news of Jesus’ birth was first announced to shepherds in the field watching their flocks. People who took this job were very often the outcasts of society. They were unimportant, common individuals. In many cases, they were very humble and had very little in money and possessions.

Shepherds didn’t have much to be happy about. Their lives were hard and required a lot of them. They smelled and were filthy. Shepherds certainly didn’t epitomize the lifestyle of the rich and famous in the least bit. Given their lot in life and having to watch over the flocks entrusted to them, they really had nothing to be joyful about or to feel happy about. They probably sat around a fire trying to stay warm and wondering what tomorrow was going to be like. Then, something wonderful happened.

In chapter two of Luke’s Gospel, he writes, “That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.’”

The great news that so many had been waiting for didn’t come to kings or to sons of kings. This news came to the lowest of the low by angels who came to earth with the specific purpose of delivering a message of joy to all even those in the lowest stations of life.

When the shepherds beheld the angel, they were frightened. In their minds, nothing like this could ever in a million years happen to them. They didn’t go to synagogue regularly if at all nor were they educated like the priests of the time. So, the likelihood of this event, in their minds, just wasn’t something that would ever happen. 

But, it did. They had forgotten a story about a small boy who wasn’t handsome, but was called by God himself to lead Israel. A small boy who was a lowly, humble shepherd that knew God and wrote a song or psalm about God being a shepherd.

That psalm, written by a shepherd boy, David, starts with these words, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.

In that light, I would say that God has a soft and special spot in his heart for shepherds and for those of common backgrounds like David.

When they were reassured, the angel delivered that timeless, wonderful message of the birth of the Savior, the Messiah, in a small backwater village, Bethlehem. I would call this an uncommon message for common people. It was the good news that had been foretold for centuries that so many had waited for.

In their joy, they went to see the child. They were so overcome with joy that they went out and told the rest of the world of what they had seen and experienced. That uncommon message was now being carried by common people to more common people.

But, that story of joy doesn’t end there. The message was also shared with wise men from eastern lands. They came to pay their respects to the newborn king of the Jews. A heavenly star led them to the place of his birth. Like the shepherds, they were filled with joy to behold this new king and they bowed down humbly before Jesus. They brought gifts fit for a king, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When you look at both stories, you see that the joy of Christmas is not confined to one class or another. That joy cannot be confined to a single day. It is a joy that should fill us throughout the year and should be a gift we give each other. It is not something found in or around a Christmas tree. That joy fills more than stockings; it fills our hearts.

I ask you to think about this joy that was shared during that first Christmas so long ago and to focus on it as you go about your daily routine. Share the joy. Greet one another with a smile. Help those in need by giving to local food banks and shelters. Remember that joy isn’t confined to a box or bag; it comes to us daily in a friend who walks with us in our good times and in our bad. That friend is Christ Jesus, the Savior and Lord of our lives. When we share that joy with others just like the shepherds did so long ago, we can stand firm in His grace and know, without a doubt, that His goodness and unfailing love will pursue us all the days of our lives.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. 

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