Monday, December 5, 2011

A Season of Joy

Image copyright 2011, David Kautt.
Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, December 4, 2011

Luke 2:1-20, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.  Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.”

1 Peter 1:8-9, “whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

One of the very first songs to be sung and played on the radio and in department stores this time of year, is the song entitled: Deck the Halls.  Many of you know the words by heart, and could even sing it now, having learned it and known it, from your childhood.  You remember, it goes something like this: “Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la, la la la la…” and so on.  It’s a cheery song, with a catchy tune, although, I’ve yet to find a dictionary with a definition for the words, fa la la la la, la la la la…  It also uses a phrase that caught my attention, that I want you to consider at the outset of our time in the Word of God this morning.  It’s the phrase, “Tis the season to be jolly.”  I looked it up, to make certain I understood what it means and found it interesting that this concept of a season to be jolly carries with it the ideas of cheerful festivity, and to be in good spirits.  It can imply that someone is having fun, enjoying some form of pleasurable excitement and may even indicate that he or she is slightly drunk - or, as we might say, ‘Tipsy’. 

Now, perhaps I’m making too much of this, seeing that this a secular song, although, I would remind you that it didn’t take too much prompting on my part for you to sing it in your minds, right?  In other words, our thinking about this time of the year has been shaped, at least partly, by a song that tells us that this is the time to enjoy in some form of pleasurable excitement, to be in good spirits, perhaps we have imbibed some form of alcohol.  But allow me to ask you, “for the Christ, is this time of year the time to be cheerful with a kind of transient or temporary festivity, a ‘jolly season’; or is it to be some other kind of season?

May I suggest to you that this season, this time of year we call the ‘Christmas season’, is not merely a ‘season to be jolly’, anybody can be tipsy anytime they want to be, anybody can pursue pleasure and excitement, anytime they want to do so.  No.  I’d like to suggest to you, that this season, the Christmas season is more, much, much more than a ‘season to be jolly’.  Rather, it is – for the Christian, the person who, through the ‘grid’ of this Book understands what this season is, for the Bible-guided Christian, this season is not a jolly season, but a joyful season, a season of joy. 

Peter, the apostolic writer of the words we find in the letter we call, “First Peter’, Peter filled with the Spirit, not with alcoholic ‘spirits’, describes the marvels and mysteries of what it means to be born again, what it truly means to be a Christian.  In 1 Peter 1:8, he refers to Christians, those who have received the gift of salvation and the new birth, the Christmas gift Jesus Christ came to bring, as rejoicing “with joy unspeakable and full of glory”.  Interestingly, he speaks of this joy, take a look at the text there in First Peter chapter one.  Peter speaks of this inexpressible and glorious joy, not in the context of some form of jolly excitement and passing pleasure.  But look.  He speaks of it in the context of pain, in a setting that has to do with hardship, difficulty and testing.
1 Peter 1:6-9, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

A season of joy, not a season to be jolly…  What does it mean?  What are we talking about when we say that “Christmas is a season of joy”? 

Well, first thing to note and to know, is what the angle of the Lord, the heavenly messenger said to the shepherds back there in Luke chapter two.  A heaven-sent messengers, shining with the radiant glory of God, when he appears in the middle of the night to shepherds quietly keeping watch over their flocks, or if he was to appear to church members at 11:45 on a Sunday morning, a heaven-sent messenger is and would have been a startling and awesome sight, an appearance that would have caused great fear for those men.  And we can understand that, can’t we?  But look at what the angel of the Lord says to these men: “Fear not… don’t be afraid.”  Why?  “Because I bring you good tidings - good news of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you – this day – in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” 

The simple reason, the obvious reason – oh, my Loved Ones, the life-changing reason – this season is NOT simply a season to be jolly, but a season to be truly joyful, is because of the good news, because of the good tidings of GREAT joy.  Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord!
Do you see it, my friends?  Our joy, our rejoicing, as Christians it is not rooted in another drink.  It is not hinging on whether or not we get to take part in another pleasurable experience, and another and another and another!  No!  It is rooted in the Good News, in the gospel message of salvation and in the fact that Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah is Lord! 

A season of joy, one of the indicators that makes me think that this is what we should call this season is the presence, yes, of music, of singing!  Not the empty, ‘Fa la la la la, la la la la’ of ‘Deck the Halls’, but the substance of Mary’s Song, the magnificat, and of Zacharias’s song, and of Simeon’s song, the benedictus.  Look at each of these three songs with me for a moment or two, would you, please?

Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s song.  Do you remember the context, the circumstance behind this song?  Mary has just received the astonishing news that God had chosen her to be the mother of His Son.  She would be, this young Jewish virgin, would be His holy vessel, His instrument through which the Son of God, the Son of the Highest, would enter into this world as a man.  And, traveling to the home of her cousin Elizabeth, she hears Elizabeth’s Holy Spirit-inspired greeting: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  You, the mother of my Lord, has come to me!...”  All of these things in the background cause Mary to well up with these joy-filled words: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”  The reason for Mary’s joy, is the Good News…  “The Lord has regarded the lowly estate of His maidservant.  The Lord has done mighty things for her.  The Lord has shown strength with His arm.  The Lord has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly.  The Lord has filled the hungry with good things, but sent the rich away empty.  The Lord has helped His servant Israel, and remembered His mercy, His covenant faithfulness to His people!”  The Lord…  The Lord…  The Lord…  He is the reason for Mary’s joy! 

Then, there’s Zacharias’s song, Luke 1:67-79.  Who is Zacharias?  Do you remember?  He is the husband of Elizabeth, He is the surprised father, who though he never would be a father, of the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.  Look at the joyful way in which he begins his song: “Blessed be [praises be] to the Lord God of Israel,” sounds like the Psalms, doesn’t it?  “For He has visited and redeemed His people!”  Good news.  “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David!”  Good news…  Just like He spoke through His holy prophets, the message is clear, and the news is very, very good indeed!  “We shall be saved, He’s going to save us from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us!”  Good news, He is, the Lord is, through this horn of salvation He is raising up for us, granting us deliverance from our enemies, and making a way for us to serve Him without fear, in the holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

It’s there, isn’t it?  For Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, it was there.  Not giddy gladness at good pleasures and excitements, but, deep, humble, grateful joy in the Lord, before the Giver of this Good News gift!

Or, take Simeon’s song, for an example.  Luke 2:22-35 provides us not only with the words of Simeon’s song, but with the context.  After a period of purification, required by the law of God following her pregnancy, and the delivery of the Christ Child, Mary and her husband, take little Jesus with them to Jerusalem, to the temple, to present Him to the Lord - what an awesome scene that must have been, for the Son of God, Mary’s children, Joseph’s keepsake, but God’s Only Begotten and Beloved Son, to be presented back to His Father in heaven!  And, then, for Simeon, this otherwise unknown Biblical character, this man Luke describes as “just and devout” was “waiting for the consolation of Israel”, led by the Holy Spirit, he steps up to this couple, holding their precious bundle, and then, he gets to take Jesus into his arms!  A season of joy, a season of life-changing, long-lasting joy, that’s what this was, and always would be for Simeon!  There with the Holy Son of God in his arms, this man who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had the opportunity to see the Lord’s Messiah, there he was, Simeon, holding the Christ of God in his own hands!  And, what does he do?  What would you have done if you had been Simeon? 

Luke 2:28 – He blesses God, He praises God and says, “Lord, now You can let me depart in peace, for my eyes – my eyes – have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” 

Do you see why I call this season a season of joy, not a season merely to be jolly?  The Son of God has come.  The consolation of Israel has come.  The light of revelation to the Gentiles has come.  And, that, my friends, is Good News, very, very, good news

So, what are we to do about it?  “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy…”  With your lips bless God, praise the Lord God of Israel, who has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for you.  With your arms, your arms, like Simeon, take up that precious Child and exclaim, “Now!  Now!  My eyes have seen it!  The salvation, the Savior You have prepared before the face of all peoples, the light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel”.  Take Him up in your arms, as your Savior, and allow Him to take you up, too – as His

Last of all, this season of joy, here’s what you are to do.  Luke 2:17 – like the shepherds, with your lives make widely known the saying which was told you concerning this precious Child! 

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