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Sunday, December 13, 2015

I Have the Joy of God (Luke 2.8-14, Micah 5.2-4)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 13, 2015
Text: Luke 2:8-14; Micah 5:2-4

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Some Music Used ::
Call to Worship: O Come, All Ye Faithful, children's choir
Hymn of Praise: Angels We Have Heard on High (GLORIA)
Song of Praise: Joy to the World/Unspeakable Joy (arr. Tomlin, Cash, Gilder)
Offering of Music: The First Noel (Maddie Buchmann, piano)
Nativity Procession: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing (Robin Hetterly, piano)
Hymn of Sending: What Child is This? (GREENSLEEVES)

:: Testimony ::  Karen Katibah shared about Joy (audio link) 

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, a season observed by the Church looking forward to Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ. Each week we light a candle on the advent wreath and remember a particular biblical theme as part of that preparation. Last week we talked about love as we considered the extent of God’s great love for us, shown through Jesus Christ, His Son. We also saw that we are able to love because God has first loved us.

Today we are on the theme of joy, particularly the joy that comes from knowing and sharing the Good News of God’s salvation which is the love of which we spoke last week. We will also hear personal story about joy as Karen Katibah shares part of her story with us after the offering.

I wanted you to hear the reading from the Old Testament prophet, Micah, who spoke of the king and shepherd who would be born in Bethlehem. That was written over 700 years before the birth of Christ, during the reign of the Assyrian empire in the 7th and 8th centuries B.C. It and other descriptive passages formed the basis of the Jewish hope for Messiah in Jesus’ day. When the angel appeared to the shepherds in Luke 2, even the shepherds would have known the significance of a Savior being born in the “city of David” (i.e. Bethlehem), not least of which when the angel named him as “Christ the Lord.” Christ is the Greek translation of “Messiah.”

Today I want to focus with you on the joy in the midst of the angels’ message.

Good News of Great Joy (v. 10) – ευαγγελιον

Do you know what the word ‘angel’ means? In its original and common form, it meant ‘messenger.’ In the Bible, since the messages were primarily from God, the angels are typically more than human messengers. But that’s the primary role for an angel. We get distracted by their appearance; and no wonder, they almost always have to begin their message with, “Don’t be afraid.” And then there is all the art and mythology we have built around them. But the basic and usual role of an angel is to bear a message from God. I mention that because I want to come back to it at the end.

Good news – The message on this particular night was extra-special. But first, these words about the message: “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.” Whatever the message is, it is good news. And here’s a little aside about that, just because it’s so interesting – it will come in handy if you ever have to play ancient Greek Scrabble! That “good news” is the same thing we also sometimes hear translated as ‘Gospel.’ And it’s the same word from which we get ‘evangelism.’ (and both the Greek and English have the word ‘angel’ in the middle – that’s because the angel bears the news or message!)

Great joy – This news would also bring great JOY – and that’s what we are particularly focused on today. We don’t know yet, but what we want to pay attention to is what causes joy – what news or circumstance or message does God (or God’s messenger) link, not only to joy, but to “great joy?”

For all the people – This will be shown to be a specifically Messianic message, so “all the people” can be understood here to mean “all of God’s people.” While immediately this would have meant Israel, both the original covenant and the new understanding of the covenant promises of God would show that God’s blessing or salvation was intended for all the peoples of the world, as many as God would call to Himself (cf. Acts 2:39).

The Message: event and signs (vv. 11-12)

And then the actual message, which is an event with several verifications or signs signaling its truth.

First, the event: “Today… there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (v. 11) The long-awaited Messiah has just been born. The coming of the Messiah was the hope of every Jewish person of that time, especially because of the rule of the foreign Roman empire. And it had been generations upon generations since God’s people had thrived under the apparent blessing of the Davidic kingdom. One day they would get it all back, and an angel had just announced that day was here!

The angel also gave a ‘sign’ – which was one of several that verified this was a true message from God. The one given explicitly by the angel was this: “you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (v. 12) That was kind of an immediate prophecy – “Go and see and you will see the truth of what I have told you.” What the shepherds may have missed was also the message in that sign – that this Savior-Messiah was not arriving as a king-in-power, but as a humble baby born in the humblest of settings. This first sign would continue to mark the difference between public expectation for the Messiah and the type of Messiah Jesus showed himself to be.

But there were other signs as well. One drew upon the ancient prophecy from Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But it was part of the angel’s message: “For today IN THE CITY OF DAVID there has been born…” (v. 11) That’s another verification – it is as Micah foretold! And then there was the sudden appearance of a “multitude of the heavenly host” who worshiped and glorified God (and added a message of their own). It’s more than one angel replicating into a bunch of angels. It’s more like an initial messenger or envoy and then the sudden appearance of a massive army, with all its variety and awesomeness. If one angel made the shepherds afraid, I can’t imagine what seeing the whole host of Heaven would do. But at the very least, you’d think it would verify the authenticity of the message!

Declare and Share (v. 14)

And it’s this last bit with the host of heaven that I’d like to end on. The message had been given and the heavenly host was responding to it in worship. The host PRAISED God with their words: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” There is more that could be said about their praises, but what I’d like to lift up is that the Good News which produces JOY is meant to be declared and shared and leads to worship (giving God glory). Upon hearing it, the whole company of heaven declared the glory and goodness of God and they did so publicly, before the watching shepherds.

From there, in the very next two verses, the shepherds decided to go see the baby for themselves. And having done so, they went back home, “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” (v. 20)

If you want a picture of what JOY looks like, that is it. It is declaring the goodness of God and sharing it with others. It is a fullness about the Good News of Jesus Christ that overflows into life and words and actions. We often confuse joy with lesser emotions like ‘happiness,’ but it is such a bigger (and better) thing, and something that can exist alongside or in the face of suffering, evil, loss, or any of the other realities of life that quickly use up ‘happiness.’ Joy is understanding that God has loved you enough to save you and that is a Good News that results in a response of thankful worship. Joy is an expression – and that’s helpful; not a feeling, but an expression – of the experience of God’s life-saving love in your life and others. Joy expresses and acknowledges God’s goodness in a way that points others to it. In effect, you become a living ‘sign’ of what God has done and become part of the Good News itself.

So, there will continue to be struggle and loss and sickness and sorrow (yes, even sorrow can exist beside joy!) until the end of this world. But no one can take away God’s love shown through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His anointed one, His Messiah, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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