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Dec 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 15, 2019


And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke 2:8-20

Intro: I’m going to begin by asking you two questions

First, What makes you feel happy?
– take a moment and give this some thought

Second, What makes you feel joy?
– again, take a moment with this question

I don’t think it’s possible to separate joy from happiness
– but I do believe it’s helpful to make the distinction
• we could spend a lifetime in the pursuit of happiness,
◦ pile up a lot of good times,
◦ but never experience joy
– so, how do they differ?
happiness depends on external factors–what “happens”
joy depends on internal processes–response and reflection
happiness is temporary
joy has a long shelf-life
happiness fluctuates
joy is stable
happiness is loud
joy is quiet
happiness feels good
joy feels content and grateful
happiness expresses itself with enthusiasm
joy expresses itself with a smile, a hug
happiness is at home with entertainment
joy is at home with deep thought

This third Sunday of Advent we celebrate joy

The angel’s presence evoked great fear; their message was of great joy

In first century Israel, a shepherd’s life was not enviable
Bruce Malina provides some cultural background to the story:
“Although shepherds could be romanticized (as was king David [sic]), they were usually ranked with . . . tanners, sailors, butchers, camel drivers, and other despised occupations. Being away from home at night they were unable to protect their women and therefore were considered dishonorable. In addition, they often were considered thieves because they grazed their flocks on other people’s property.”
– shepherding was a bottom-rung occupation
• some jobs today are treated with a noticeable lack of respect
◦ we don’t even mention them by name, but activity
◦ “flipping burgers,” “scrubbing toilets,” “washing dishes”
“bagging groceries,” and so on
• in Luke’s gospel, Jesus gravitated towards these people
◦ more than once, he is criticized for socializing with them
– the world of these shepherds was hard and unpleasant
• authoritarian governments create a culture of oppression
◦ that is, people who are oppressed by “higher-ups”
◦ typically oppress others who are “lower-downs”
• shepherds were fair game for everyone’s contempt

WARNING: This will be a brief tangent. To me, a sad example of ugly religion is when people who claim to be Christians treat with contempt or condescension waiters in restaurants, clerks in stores, fast-food servers, gardeners, janitors, and people other similar professions. And some ugly religion people do this just because they can. In the reconstructed world of Jesus, no person is above or below anyone else.
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all (Mk. 10:43-44)

The angel promised a joy that will be for all the people
– as if giving proof this was true, the announcement came to shepherds
• those dirty outcasts became the first messengers of the good news

In scripture, God is the source of all human joys

Israel celebrated annual feasts in which they worshiped with rejoicing
(see Deut. 16:11, 14, 15; 26:11; 27:11)
– they rejoiced at harvest time, sheep-shearing, weddings, etc.
• in all joyful occasions, they lifted their eyes to heaven
◦ every good thing that comes from the natural world is God’s gift
◦ and every gift is cause for joy and rejoicing with thanksgiving
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wind abound
(Ps. 4:6-7)
• in that same psalm, the poet celebrates other gifts of God
◦ relief from distress – peace, and safety
– after returning from exile, Israel renewed their covenant with God
• when they gathered to hear the reading from the Scriptures,
◦ the people wept over their past sins and what that cost them
• but Nehemiah and the Levites told them not to grieve
Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Neh. 8:10)

Israel also rejoiced in God for their liberation from slavery and exile
– after fleeing Egypt and crossing the Red Sea,
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying,
I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him
(Ex. 15:1-21)
• looking forward to the time they would return from captivity,
◦ Isaiah sang,
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away
(Isa. 51:11)
– but most frequently in scripture, especially in the New Testament,
• joy comes from relationships with other people
◦ so Paul could say to the believers in Thessalonica,
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thes. 1:19)

The Book of Joy was one of my favorite reads in the past two years

In it, Douglas Abrams reports a week-long conversation between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
– both men have suffered extreme hardships
• yet both men are fountains of joy
– through their conversation they discerned eight pillars of joy:
Perspective – “There are many different angles”
Abrams, “A healthy perspective really is the foundation of joy and happiness, because the way we see the world is the way we experience the world. Changing the way we see the world in turn changes the way we feel and the way we act, which changes the world itself.”
– we are not as big as we think
• and, we are not as small as we think
Desmond Tutu, “God uses each of us in our own way, and even if you are not the best one, you may be the one who is needed or the one who is there.”
Humor – “Laughter, joking is much better”
Abrams, “Humor is one of the best ways to end conflict, especially when you are able to make fun of yourself or admit that you are overreacting or being silly.”
Acceptance – “The only place where change can begin”
Tutu, “Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and to be free from the past.” “Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us.”
– in his instructions to the leaders of the church of Ephesus, Paul said,
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)

Conclusion: And that brings us back to where we began

The good news of great joy had to do specifically with Jesus
– Peter said that in him we rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Pet. 1:8)
• something Jesus said to his disciples their last night has stuck with me
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in your, and that your joy may be full (Jn. 15:11)

When the shepherds got over their fear,
– and their rational minds kicked in,
• they decided, “If this is true, we better go check it out”

This is all I really have to say today
– we can find our way to Jesus if we sincerely want to
• we can open our hearts fully to him
• allow him to pour his joy into us – and then begin to live it

What I know for sure,
is that there is more in Jesus to lift us up
than there is in this world to bring us down

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