There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12, NIV)
When I think of sheer unbounded joy, I think of dogs. My own dog, Max Power, waits every day for me to get home from work. And when I walk through the door, he acts as if he has not seen me in months, wagging his tail so hard that it looks like it will fly off his butt. This is one reason people like dogs so much – their joy brings us joy. It is not a joy that was ever learned in obedience school – it is just built into the relationship.
Genuine joy does not come from getting all the presents we want for Christmas or having everything go our way.
Joy is not a product we can buy at the store. Authentic, real joy is the fruit of meaningful relationships. My dog cares nothing about how much money I have or even if he has the best dog food to eat and a trendy collar to wear; his joy comes from being with me.
The good news of a Savior coming to this earth means God is coming to be with us. This is good news of great joy! We are loved because God is good, not because we are good. And because God is good, and we are a mess of humanity, there is joy that the Lord is coming to save us!
The reason Christ’s birth was good news of great joy to the shepherds is that they were shepherds. Shepherds in the ancient world were generally looked on with contempt. In fact, Egyptians refused to eat with Jews because they were mostly shepherds (Genesis 46:31-34).
Shepherds spent most of their time living with their sheep outdoors, to protect the flock. Shepherds were neither well-dressed nor culturally refined. They mostly smelled like sheep poop. Shepherds also had the notoriety of being drinkers. Because they slept with the sheep, many shepherds passed the time and dealt with the chilly air by taking a nip of alcohol. We do not really know whether most shepherds were drunkards, or not; but we do know they had a bad reputation.
Becoming a shepherd was not a profession a young person aspired to. Nobody took out a student loan to major in shepherding at the University of Jerusalem. King David started out as a shepherd. He was the youngest in the family and got stuck with the job nobody else wanted.
Out of all the persons and people-groups the heavenly angels could have come to announce the birth of Christ, it was shepherds.
This is truly a gospel of grace. The angelic announcement to a bunch of stinky shepherds is profoundly significant. It is important because grace is being shown to the lowliest of society. A lowly Savior, born to a lowly family, and placed in a lowly feeding trough, came to reach the lowly, common, ordinary person.
To have this kind of attention from God Almighty is like the master of a dog walking into the house. We, as the common, ordinary mutts of society, are beside ourselves with joy, feeling privileged to be in the same room as Jesus.
It is only the lowly and humble in heart who will see God and enjoy the Lord’s presence. That is because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. It is why the angels came to the shepherds and not to the religious leaders. It is good news of great joy for all the people.
The gospel is not limited to those who are the most educated, the wealthiest, or from the most prominent of families – it is for everyone.
Yet, even with this good news of grace, many people still live their lives in fear and worry instead of joy. The message seems to only linger on the surface, not getting firmly pressed into minds and hearts.
Even though a Savior is born, we still experience the harshness of a world under the dominion of darkness. We worry about constant disease, financial difficulties, and the daily stresses of life. We fret about dealing with ornery people, hard circumstances, family members who go astray, and the little plastic things on our shoelaces coming off leaving the shoestrings frayed!
Sometimes, we strain our eyes to try and see some joy.
Jesus is the son of David, born in the town of David – both were anointed as kings but had to go through a lot of hardship before realizing their kingships. We live in the time between the two advents of Christ in which God’s kingdom is already here but not yet here. It is a topsy-turvy time characterized by a weird mix of sinner and saint, despair and joy, adversity, and comfort.
Real joy is not found in having every circumstance go our way and having everyone like us, all the time. Joy comes from the gospel of grace, from God coming down and being with us. Being in the presence of the Master makes all the difference. If joy comes from being with God in Christ, then cultivating and practicing the presence of Jesus in our daily lives is important and necessary.
Had the angels come into Bethlehem, a town swelling in numbers of people because of the Roman census, I am not sure anybody would have heard them. The shepherds were away from the noise, out in the quiet solitude of the fields by themselves. So, they were able to hear the message of God when it came.
Noise comes in various forms, both around us and within us. Sometimes we even create noise on the outside so that the boisterous racing thoughts on the inside will get drowned. To be quiet is to be able to listen. To listen is to receive another’s voice.
Receiving the voice of the angels, their message, and their praise to God, is the pathway to joy and the way out of unhappy inner noise.
We need deliverance from our brokenness and unhealthy ways of coping. There is far too much unhappiness in this world. One in every two-hundred teenage American girls cut themselves on a regular basis. More than half of people in the United States with serious depression do not receive or will not get adequate help. Anxiety disorders affect nearly sixty million adults in the United States.
The coming of Jesus Christ into this world makes a difference. God has come to be with us to meet the deepest needs of our lives. The deliverance can be realized as we eagerly anticipate the Master, spend time with him, and allow the Lord’s loving presence and compassionate voice to transform our hearts and change us from the inside-out.
Christianity is not a magic happy pill to swallow; it is a relationship with God which is cultivated and grows over time.
Joy is relational. That means no amount of positive thinking, buying new stuff, or good situations will create joy or sustain it. Christianity offers joy in Jesus – not a cheap sentimental happiness of having every prayer answered or each situation go our way – but the settled joy of God with us through the valleys as well as on the mountain tops.
Neither worry nor fret. Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. In the town of David, a Savior is born. He is Christ the Lord. What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wealthy man, I would give him frankincense or gold. Yet, what can I give him?…
I can give him my heart.