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Message for 12-24-13 GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY

“GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY”

Luke 2:8-20

 

Two years ago, I was listening to Christmas music on the radio, when I heard the song “Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsman, a song from back when I was a kid.  In the song, Snoopy gets called on Christmas Eve to go up and fight the Red Baron.  The Red Baron has Snoopy dead in his sights, but then, “Why he didn’t shoot, well, we’ll never know, or was it the bells from the village below?”  The Red Baron makes Snoopy fly to the Rhine, and forces him to land behind the enemy line. “Snoopy was certain that this was the end, when the Baron cried out, Merry Christmas, my friend! 

“The Baron then offered a holiday toast, and Snoopy our hero saluted his host.  And then with a roar they were both on their way, each knowing they’d meet on some other day.  Christmas bells, those Christmas bells, ringing through the land!  Bringing peace to all the world, and good will to man!”

As I listened to this song on the radio, I thought to myself, “If my heart is warmed by this song that is totally fictional, how much more should our hearts be warmed by the story of what happened that first Christmas night in approximately 6-7 BC in the stable in Bethlehem, a story that really and truly happened!”  I’m not saying we’re supposed to get all worked up about the birth of an adorable little child.  I confess, I’m not into manger scenes.  What gets me excited is what this story was really all about.

Jesus’ birth was the birth of no ordinary child.  This child was and is God in human flesh.  The difference between this event and the song “Snoopy’s Christmas” (or any number of other Christmas stories like it) is enormous.  This is no heartwarming fairy tale.  We are talking reality.  God has come down here to walk this earth in person, first as a child, then as the greatest human who ever lived.  He came to live the life we should have lived, and to die the death we should have died.  He came to restore our broken relationship with God, to put us right with God, to give us life and peace with God that lasts forever, for all who will place their faith in him.

Jesus’ birth gives us the most glorious hope!  We have no other hope.  Yes, it’s a hope that may contradict our present experience in life.  (Thank God that it contradicts our present experience in life!)  But it’s a hope that gives us courage to seize our present challenges by the horns.  Without that hope, we would have no other hope to live by.

The news of Jesus’ birth gives us good news of great joy, which shall be to all people: Jews, Arabs, Africans, Asians, Europeans, Native Americans.  Who could have imagined on the night when that heavenly army appears in the sky, that this would be the night that would ultimately bring world-changing hope to an entire globe and to all of history?  “This night is born to you a Savior – the Jewish Messiah – the Lord of creation!  You’ll find him as a baby wrapped up like a mummy and lying in a feeding trough.”

We never would have figured it out without an army of angels to tell us.  They have followed their GPS (galaxy-positioning system) to this point in the universe at this point in time because they knew this was the night where anyone who had the scoop would want a front-row seat to witness this earth-shaking piece of history.  No wonder they cry, louder than any rock band, with voices that thunder across the night sky, “Glory to God in the highest places, and on earth peace among people [who are objects] of [God’s] good pleasure!”  Good news of great joy, for all of us to hear!

Have those Christmas bells brought peace on earth?  Not yet, but they will, because the Good News of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection has already brought the one kind of peace without which the other kind is impossible: peace with God.

And that should give us joy!  That doesn’t mean we’re not going to feel down in the dumps at times.  Sometimes we’re going to get smacked around by waves as we slog our way through the swamps of life.  But Christ has given us a source of joy that can keep us forging ahead, a source of joy that can cut this world’s pain down to size.

God has given us Good News of GREAT JOY!  God is not the Cosmic Killjoy.  God wants us to experience great joy, and God wants to get rid of anything that keeps us from experiencing that joy.  Just about all of our human misery can be traced back to some form of sin.  We are all enslaved to a multitude of desires that are not good for us, and God wants to set us free from all that enslaves us.

Jesus was born to save us, not just from hell, but from the effects of sin in the here and now.  Jesus has come to save us from who we are right now.  He invites us to follow him on a journey toward freedom from all the bondage that sin produces in our lives.  Jesus comes to bring us GREAT JOY.  We’re not there yet.  But we’ve stumbled across the only road that will take us there.  Every other road is a dead-end street.  Jesus, the child who was born that night, is the only pass over the mountains on the road to joy.

And that’s what makes this night the night of all nights.  That’s what makes this birth, above all others, the one worth celebrating!  God has come to earth to rescue us, in person.  He has come to make true joy possible for the very first time.  He has come to set the entire planet free from our chains.  Yes, it would make for a wonderful once-upon-a-time story, if that’s all it was.   But what makes it infinitely more exciting is that this story is for real.  It is as real as the earth, air, and stars.  And that means that what happened that night 2017 years ago in Bethlehem makes a difference in your life here tonight.  Christ has come to earth to reconcile you with God, to bridge that Grand Canyon of sin that separated us all from God way back in the beginning.  A lot of you have already experienced what it means to be put right with God.  If not, if you’ve never done so before, tonight’s your chance to say Yes to what Christ has done for us, to invite him in and let him change your life forever.  You’ll be eternally glad you did. 

Tonight, let us celebrate God’s first (and so far, only) arrival in the flesh on this earth.  And because it’s God who has come to earth, let us do more than celebrate.  Let us worship.

Lord, we praise you for the Good News of Jesus’ birth, a story we can build our lives on, the One who comes to bring us your joy, the One who comes to get rid of all that keeps us from experiencing your joy.  Lord, if there is anyone tonight who has never said Yes to what you have done for us in Christ, help them tonight to ask you into their lives, so that they may be put right with you forever, so that they may know that they are ready to meet you.  We ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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