And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Some people resemble a little black raincloud – they never miss a chance to fuss at something. For some Christians, this is a special talent: we are never happier than when we are miserable. And for some odd reason, Christmas tends to draw out our inner Scrooge and turn him loose on the world.
Sadly, getting way too uptight about things has become a favorite Christian pastime, a part of the ethos of piety. I say “sadly” because I don’t believe God intended this for His people. True, in many ways we are like just Lot, vexing our righteous souls. But that doesn’t make “vexing” a fruit of the Spirit. I don’t think God is more pleased with sour-faced self-righteousness.
Do the stores stock their shelves for Christmas long before Thanksgiving? I’m not sure why I should be bothered by this. For at least 2 months out of every year, the world acknowledges that something important happened on a cold winter night in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. Calling it a “Winter Festival” doesn’t change that fact. When the world turns “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” they only expose their illiteracy. “Holiday” is a variation of “Holy Day,” and holiness is hardly a secular value.
So, if you happen to wander into a Super Target this holiday season, you might see a sexually disturbed man walking into the lady’s bathroom. And at that same moment, you might hear a glorious contradiction played over the store’s speaker system: “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” Even in Target, Christmas means something.
This should increase our joy – the fact that, wittingly or unwittingly, the world celebrates the birth of Christ. Do they do it ignorantly? Sure. But every knee will bow to Christ, and every tongue will confess His Lordship. Do some profit obscenely from Christmas? Sure. And we can talk about the evils of commercialism. But as we do, we should also be mindful of the evils of envy. They may profit, and it might be to no profit. But for the Christian, the joy of the season includes the joy that right now, the world cannot contain the joy of Christmas — it spills out into the aisles of your local Super Target.
As we go about our Christmas celebrations, we find that certain words fit with this season like chocolate syrup on a banana split – words like “joy,” “peace,” and “noel” for instance. We find the word “joy” emblazoned across Christmas cards and wrapping paper, saturating our carols, and broadcast in the strangest places. The word “joy” embodies our celebration of Christmas. Consider a handful of our favorite carols…
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here; O drive away the shades of night and pierce the clouds and bring us light.
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant; come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem…
O holy Child of Bethlehem descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in—be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains, and the mountains, in reply, echoing their joyous strains.
Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be which inspire your heav’nly song?
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King; peace on earth, and mercy mild—God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; with th’ angelic hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King!”
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow, look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing: O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.
There’s a tumult of joy o’er the wonderful birth, for the Virgin’s sweet Boy is the Lord of the earth. Ay! the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing, for the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
While shepherds watch’ed their flocks by night, all seated on the ground, the angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around, and glory shone around.
“Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind; “glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.”
Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul and voice; now ye hear of endless bliss: Joy! joy! Jesus Christ was born for this! He has opened heaven’s door, and man is blessed evermore: Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!
One entire Christmas hymn celebrates the joy of the birth of Christ…
Joy to the world! the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let ev’ry heart prepare Him room, and heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the earth the Savior reigns. Let men their songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.
What is with all of this emphasis on joy? Is this some anomaly at this time of year, a strange kind of “good nature” that magically creeps into our otherwise sour souls at Christmas time?
H.L. Mencken once described Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be having fun.” Too many Christians celebrate Christmas like that kind of Puritan (as opposed to the real kind). The fact that the world caricatures Puritanism doesn’t compel us to embrace the caricature. If you consider it your mission in life to be a killjoy for Jesus, I would shyly recommend that you become better acquainted with the Holy Spirit. Crankiness is not next to holiness. But love, joy, and peace certainly are. And Christmas shouldn’t be the exception. After all, when Jesus was born, God sent a message of good news to the world — for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.