Sunday, December 12, 2021

Third Sunday of Advent - Joy

When we think about Christmas, we sometimes find ourselves thinking about the best gifts we received as a child. As you think about running to the Christmas tree and looking at all the gifts under it, you were looking for that special gift that you wanted all year long. When you found it, your parents would give you the honor of opening that special gift first. You ripped into the wrapping paper. Your face was glowing as you saw that gift. Your heart was filled with joy and you thanked your parents or Santa for that wonderful gift. It is that one gift you wanted so much. You finally got it.

When you think about that moment, I want you to also think about the smiles on your parents' faces. They may have gone without and eaten peanut butter sandwiches for the entire year to save up for that gift. But, they were both happy to do that. Their joy came from knowing that you got the gift you had wanted for so long.

As a father, I did the same thing. I would go out of my way to give my daughter all that she wanted. It was my way of letting her know that I cared and loved her very much. I would do whatever it took to get her that special gift and make sure it was under the tree on that special day.

When you think about the Advent season and reflect on today’s theme of joy, you can see the parallels between what we do as parents for our children and what our Heavenly Father has done for His. It isn’t a hard jump between the two. We, as parents, love our children and want them to have only the best. Our Heavenly Father is the same way. He wants us to receive the best gift ever.

Giving a gift is a joyful moment for both the giver and receiver. For the giver, it is more than just the moment when the gift is received. It is everything that has gone into that moment. All of the planning and effort is sort of a gift to us. We want our gift to be special.

For the receiver, their joy is different. They have wanted this gift for a long, long time and now they have received exactly what they desired. It is the gift of all gifts and is prized highest of all. Think about that special gift from your parents. Do you remember how you felt when you received it? You felt so special when you opened up that gift and held it in your hands.

Gifts like those stay in our minds and hearts forever. When we meet others during Christmas parties, one of the topics often turns to sharing stories of Christmases long, long ago. We share our special moments and give them a glimpse into the joy we experienced. Through the telling of our stories, those who are listening feel joy in their own hearts as they reminisce about their special gift.

Think back to the shepherds in the field watching over their flocks at night. Shepherds weren’t the most popular individuals in the world. They smelled of sweat and were dirty. They certainly didn’t receive a lot of invitations to parties. Oftentimes, they were outcasts from their own villages who had the responsibility of watching over the sheep and goats. Although everyone benefited from their work, they weren’t exactly people who were thought of in high regards.

On the night that Jesus was born, these same outcasts were the first ones told of his birth. Those very outcasts received the good news from God’s messengers, the angels. From God’s heart to the lips of the angels, the good news was given to those whom others shunned or avoided.

Luke, in chapter two of his gospel, 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 shepherds were overcome with great joy and the angels joined together in a great chorus to herald the birth of the small child. Jesus was not born in a palace or mansion. He was born in humble surroundings to those who were humble. 

After witnessing all of this, they went to seek out the child. They didn’t casually walk back to the small town of Bethlehem. According to the scripture, they hurried. They were overcome with the desire to seek out the small child that the angels had just proclaimed. When they arrived at the stable, they beheld the King of Kings and Lord of Lords wrapped in strips of cloth lying humbly in a manger, a food trough for farm animals. The shepherds were filled with joy and praised and glorified God. 

Joy comes from our hearts and souls and it is always shared with others. The real gift is more than what comes in a package. It is what it means to us. When you consider the gift of Jesus to the world, it is more than just a feel-good story that we tell once a year. It is the gift that we share with great joy with all. Our hearts and souls are filled to overflowing and that overflowing joy fills others up until their hearts and souls are filled to capacity and beyond. Think of it as an ice tray. You fill one compartment and then it overflows and fills the next. That is how our joy should be. It should be something that overflows and fills up others. 

Paul, in chapter four of his epistle to the church at Philippi, said it best when he wrote, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

As we approach that special day of Jesus’ birth and celebrate with great joy, I ask you to share that gift with others. Don’t just share it on Christmas day, but, rather, share it every day. God gives us His love every day and we shouldn’t be different. Show and share His love with others to those who may consider themselves as outcasts. When we do that, we give a very special gift to all and can stand firm in His grace.  

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

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