645 Poplar St, Terre Haute IN 47807, USA

True Joy (St. Luke 2.1-20)


“True Joy”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus

Luke 2.1-20

24 December 2022


Every year there are news columns and magazine articles which opine about the holidays. It isn’t Christmas so much because that’s considered too sectarian in a pluralistic society, so one must include all celebrations no matter what they celebrate. A monthly magazine which I receive is apolitical. It’s all about cars, racing, and club events. The editor-in-chief wrote in this month’s foreword about the chaos and “tumultuous challenge[s] of our lives.” This is part of what he said:

“—but we will not despair. For joy is at the core of the human spirit, and each of us can find that spark, especially in seasons like these, when we celebrate our connections—the human strands that bind us together.

Let us celebrate with family—Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, whatever. We can stretch the season back to cover Diwali, look forward to Chinese New Year—anything that lets us celebrate our common humanity.” [Roundel, December 2022]

He closed by wishing everyone joy.

Well, my expectations about such sentiment were not disappointed again. It happens every year—people search for joy in mundane things that have no lasting joy. For many people who celebrate Christmas in our nation the joy will be over by the end of Christmas dinner tomorrow, maybe even earlier. It’s delusion to think that looking at our common humanity will bring us lasting joy. It’s like all the passengers standing on the deck of the Titanic being joyful at their common predicament, denying its deadly nature.

The angel’s message to the shepherds is the only message of joy that can last because only his message speaks of the reason for that joy—the birth of the Christ Jesus, the Savior of humanity.

This is an emotional time of year, but emotions are overrated. What one feels is no substitute for reality. Our culture is drowning in a sea of emotional overload. If one merely feels something it is said to be true, but of course, wishing doesn’t make something so. “When you wish upon a star,” as Jimmy Cricket used to sing on the Walt Disney program, is just so much “feel good” for no particular reason other than our darkened lives demand something to hang onto, fairy tale or not.

The editor I quoted is very good with words. He’s clever. He holds the reader’s interest. He’s entertaining. I like reading his work. But the angel over the plains at Bethlehem is none of that. His appearance caused the shepherds to cringe in fear. Why? Because such messengers from God are very otherworldly and strike fear into the hearts of sinful people. So the angel’s first words are, “Fear not!” Literally, “Stop being afraid!” He has to assure them that he is not there to strike them dead. They have no reason to fear. The angel is about to tell them why.

Our lives are full of fear. There is so much to worry about that listing our fears would be longer than a five year old’s Christmas wish list. Your common humanity is no comforting bond! It doesn’t take away fear. Truth is, we’re afraid of each other more than we trust each other. Children used to walk to and from school in our neighborhood, most of them fewer than 6 blocks away. Parents now pick up their children from the front of the school. The line of cars snakes from the front of Davis Park School on 18th street back along Poplar St. and then north on 19th St. We’re afraid to let our children walk to and from school, perhaps justifiably so. People who didn’t bother locking the doors of their homes now make sure they are locked and the alarm is activated. Cars now come with self-locking mechanisms to keep carjackers out. GPS can track cars. Even your cell phone can track your child’s every move. And yet, we’re afraid.

We worry about our health even though we endured a long pandemic. Once pronounced over, we have been told to worry about other communicable diseases we might catch. And we haven’t touched upon the big ones like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and any others we don’t need to list.

Our relationships with others also make us afraid. Broken marriages, children being filled with chilling thoughts which are taught in our schools, addictive drugs which can kill in moments, job insecurity, food insecurity, and internal family turmoil.

And our editor has the nerve to tell us to rejoice in the human spirit! Humanity’s real predicament is its self-inflicted alienation from God. Let’s not talk about sin! That’s a real joy killer! Let’s not talk about our need to be reconciled with God and through that reconciliation, with each other. There’s too much heavy lifting going on here! Let’s just say that it doesn’t matter what we believe so long as we find some joy in our common humanity. Some people will really believe that for a New York Minute, but when the day is over so is the joy. There must be something better than this annual emotional binge, a binge which forces some people who have crushing burdens to do the unthinkable. For all of the delusional “Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa” you can utter, there are thousands, yes millions, who will find no joy. Wishing does not make it so; in fact, it makes it worse.

So where can true joy be found? Is it just another illusion that we hope might be true? No, it is not a mirage in a desert of dreariness! Listen again to the angel:

“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.”

“Good news of great joy!” The news media seldom brings good news. We know that, so we turn off our TVs and cancel our newspaper subscriptions. You won’t see, hear, or read it there. But here in this place you hear it proclaimed every Sunday and especially tonight when we hear God’s good news again. What’s the heart, the core, of that good news? “A Savior, who is Christ, the Lord” has been born for you in a tiny village in Israel. He, the Promise of the Ages, became a flesh and blood human being for one purpose—to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world so that everything that kept us separated from God would be rectified, atoned, reconciled.

Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, is no fairy tale. This good news proclaims that God and man are reconciled through this baby, not at the manger, but on the tree of the cross where he would pour out his life’s blood to bring peace with God for our common humanity’s fatal condition—sin.

The joy that comes from Christ’s birth into this world—his Incarnation, taking on human flesh and blood—means that you have a Savior who truly understands what you feel and experience because he felt and experienced it all in his own life, suffering, and death. Yet, he rose from the dead as the Victor over all of that which alienated us from God and from each other. He came to bring peace, a peace which the world does not know. It is a peace which surpasses all human understanding.

Good news! A Savior is born! Joy to a world stuck in the depths of despair and sin! Good news that this life is not the pitiful end of it all! Good news that God and man are reconciled through the blood of Christ! Good news that you and I are reconciled to each other and to all others as well.

That’s joy! A joy that will not end as do our earthly celebrations! A joy that brings us through the tears and sorrows of this life! A joy that carries us as we mourn our loved ones! A joy that points forward to our Lord’s kingdom which has no end, in which we will join him at our last hour and rejoice forever in his presence with all his angels and saints, and our loved ones who have gone before us in the faith.

There are literally hundreds of references in our hymnody to joy and its cognates that reflects this faith we confess. In the Hymn of the Day we sang these words from the second half of Luther’s great Christmas Hymn, From Heaven Above to Earth I Come:

My heart for very joy must leap;

My lips no more can silence keep.

I, too, must sing with joyful tongue

That sweetest ancient cradlesong :

Glory to God in highest heav’n,

Who unto us His Son has giv’n!

While angels sing with pious mirth

A glad new year to all the earth. [LSB 358.14-15]

Dear friends, this joy is yours again tonight and will continue until you receive the full joy of heaven with Christ!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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