THE GIFT OF JOY
The Gift of Joy
Isaiah 60:1-4 & Luke 2:8-20
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10
Today is the third Sunday of Advent! During this season, we have been opening “The Gifts of Christmas.” The First Sunday of Advent, we opened the gift of hope by looking at the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth. How they had hoped beyond hope to have a child. While Old Zechariah is in the temple performing his age-old duties, the angel Gabriel showed up! “Your prayers have been heard. Elizabeth is going to have a baby boy!” They had hoped and prayed for years for a baby! Gabriel brought THE GIFT OF HOPE to us the first week of Advent. The second week of Advent, we opened the gift of love! See what love God has for us that God became one of us! The incarnation of God becoming human is one of the most joyous miracles in the Bible. Think of the angel Gabriel bringing the news to Mary. Think of the angel Gabriel showing up again—this time to tell Joseph not to divorce Mary but to marry her and give the child the name of Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. Immanuel—GOD WITH US! That is the gift of love.
Today, we come to the third week of Advent and the gift of joy!
Do you have joy in your journey? Has your journey knocked the joy out of you?
I have chosen two passages today to reflect upon as we open the gift of joy!
Before we come to God’s Wonderful Words of Life and Joy, let us come the throne of joy in prayer. “God of all hope, love, joy and peace. Help us to find the joy in our journey. Help us to allow the joy of the Lord to be our strength. May your Wonderful Words of life fill us with the joy of the Lord. Amen”
In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. 2Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” 3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. 5Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. 6Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”[i]
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.[ii]
In 2001, the Richards family of Canberra, Australia, set the Guinness World Record for the most holiday lights ever to grace a human house—331,038 bulbs, to be exact. The family's retina-scorching record stood for more than a decade. In 2012, Tim Gay and his family from La Grangeville, New York—bested the Richards. They decorated their house with 346,283 lights. (Many of their lights were synchronized to music.) The Richards couldn't stand to be losers so they upped the ante by decorating their house with more than 502,165 lights. (This equates to more than 29 miles of wire.) But! There is, of course, always room for more light. So, this year, our heroes from New York got their revenge: They covered their own house—and, crucially, its grounds—with a display that involves 601,736 lights. The whole thing took roughly two months to build. It spans two acres. It also involves much more than lights: It includes more than 200 songs, including both top-40 hits and traditional holiday songs. As Tim Gay told Guinness, on the occasion of his win: "My family and I are thrilled to bring the World Record back to the United States." He added, "And we're even more excited that we did it with nearly 100,000 more lights than the previous record."[iii]
Have you lost the meaning of Christmas in the rush of activities and lights? Have you been able to open the real gifts of Christmas? Gifts of hope, love, joy and peace? At the beginning of the Advent season, I wondered if God could do it again: brings the real gifts of Christmas. 2017…it’s been a hard year for many of us. Many of us have lost loved ones, many of us have had real health issues. As most of you know, it’s been a hard year for Jac and me: Lead poisoning, two rounds of chelation, moving our household and dumping 4 dumpsters of our belongings as we tried to get the proverbial lead out. The “so what?” comes early today. I’ve been thinking about this all week. Do I really believe that God is at work in the silences of my life? Do I trust the Holy Spirit to show me that nothing is impossible with God? Do I really know Immanuel--GOD WITH ME?
How about you? Have you ever really, seriously thought about entering the Christmas story? Have you put yourself into their sandals? Who would you be --- Zechariah or Elizabeth, Mary or Joseph, a wise man or woman, a doubting King or a busy inn-keeper? How about being an angel or a shepherd?
OVERLOOKED BUT NOT OVERLOOKING
This morning I would like for you to enter into the Christmas story through the eyes of the shepherds. Back in the time of the Messiah’s birth, shepherds were not looked upon as upstanding citizens. They were outcasts in many ways. They were on the bottom rung of the social ladder. They were uneducated and unskilled, they were viewed as dishonest, unreliable, and unsavory. They were not allowed into the synagogue because they were unclean. They could not be a witness in a court case because of their reputation. Shepherds were the outcast and were overlooked by many--but not by God!
It was to a group of outsiders, outcasts, and overlooked shepherds that the angel of the Lord first appeared to bring the news above all news to mankind. Think of it--good news of great joy…given to a small band of homeless shepherds by the host of heavenly angels.
Why? Why waste this visit on shepherds? Why not appear to the Kings, Priests, Pharisees, Prophets or Presidents? If you were going to announce the greatest new in all of history, where would go first? CNN, ABC, CBS, CNBC, or Fox news?
Many years ago, we took a youth group to Ensenada, Mexico, to build a church and do VBS. It was humbling and eye-opening to enter into the life that these people lived. One day our guide took us out into the migrant fields to share the Good News of Christ with the Indian-Mexican migrant workers. I will never forget walking through their village on the outskirts of the fields where they labored. They lived in “houses” made of cardboard and plastic that they had rescued from the trash. There were a few hundred-people huddled inside these “homes.” Their bathroom was one outdoor outhouse, and their shower was a bucket on stilts—housing rainwater. These people were the poorest of the poor. They were considered the outsiders, and outcasts--overlooked by their own people. Do you get the picture? The shepherds of Jesus’ day were like that.
Christmas is a time of surprises. There was a lady who was preparing her Christmas cookies. There was a knock at the door. She went to find a man, his clothes poor, obviously looking for some Christmas odd jobs. He asked her if there was anything he could do. She said, "Can you paint?" "Yes," he said. "I'm a rather good painter." "Well," she said, "there are two gallons of green paint there and a brush, and there's a porch out back that needs to be painted. Please do a good job. I'll pay you what the job is worth." He said, "Fine. I'll be done quickly." She went back to her cookie making and didn't think much more about it until there was a knock at the door. She went, and the obviousness of his painting was evident: he had it on his clothes. She said, "Did you finish the job?" He said, "Yes." She said, "Did you do a good job?" He said, "Yes. But lady, there's one thing I'd like to point out to you. That's not a Porsche back there. That's a Mercedes."[iv]
Here we are. Three Advent Sundays down with one to go! We’ve been opening The Gifts of Christmas —through the eyes of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph…and now we’ve opened the gift of JOY…as seen through the eyes of the shepherds and angels. Our Gospel tells us that after the shepherds heard and saw the angels—they went with haste to Bethlehem…big time Bethlehem, small time shepherds.
When a Florida man opened his birthday present from his son and daughters, he had no idea how much his life was about to change. According to ABC News, Noll Stafford, 66, had been colorblind since birth.
His family gave him a pair of Enchroma glasses. On his 66th birthday Noll saw color for the first time. According to the company's website, the glasses cost $429. Noll had the glasses on for just about one second, when he had to take them off to cry. One of his daughters ran to his side to comfort him. He put them on again. "It's so clear. I can't believe it," he said through tears. Stafford's grandson, Carson Stafford, posted the video of Noll to YouTube. It has gone viral with more than 30 million video views on Facebook. [v]
When I read this article, I thought of what it would be like to see color for the first time. Then I thought of what it would have been like to see what the shepherds saw. First, they saw one angel, then thousands of thousands of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest.” Talk about “good news of great joy.” They not only saw angels, but they went to the manger and saw baby Jesus—wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger. Can we put ourselves into the sandals of these outcast shepherds? They not only see Gabriel the Arch Angel, they hear him say --- “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10
You want to hear what is totally interesting to me? In these four verses of the announcement from the angels, the word “you” is spoken four times. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Four times the first-person pronoun YOU is used. The message that is given to the outcast shepherds is a first-person announcement. The angels didn’t say, “Go tell the King. Go tell the priests. Go tell the rulers.” The angels said, “YOU.”
A young Chinese convert whose given name was Lo became greatly excited when he first read Matthew 28:20. As a newborn babe in Christ, he took the word “lo” to apply to him personally. Aglow with the joy of his newly-discovered partnership with God, he exclaimed, “Look, missionary, it says, ‘Lo, I am with you always!’”[vi]
That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Dave—I’ve brought you good news of great joy. Lynn—A savior has been born to YOU. Ed—I have a sign for you! Janine—YOU will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Don’t we get it? This story isn’t for everyone else BUT YOU…THIS STORY IS FOR YOU!
At the beginning of the message, I asked you a few questions about opening The Gifts of Christmas. The gift of hope! The gift of love! The gift of joy!
This is the “so what” for us today. What gifts have you seen this Christmas? Have you been looking for the gift of HOPE? Heaven’s ONE PROMISE—EMMANUEL…GOD WITH YOU? Did you look this past week for the gift of LOVE? As many of you know, Jac and I went to the doctor for our lab results on Thursday afternoon. Our new car had gotten sideswiped at Granziano’s at noon. We should have been prepared for the bad news from the doctor but we weren’t. Jac’s lead had tripled and mine stayed the same.
We both will be doing more chelation in 2018. What happened is that when we moved from the house of lead—we had to wash and clean everything in it or throw it away. We threw away 4 big dumpster loads and washed and cleaned the rest. No one could help us because the house was truly contaminated with lead. The ventilation system put out six times the lethal limit. We lived there 4 years. All that to say that Jac had not chelated or been tested since January. I was chelating when we moved, plus I did another round this fall. Jac’s count went up—triple the lethal limit. Mine stayed the same—but still twice the normal limit.
Friends, we were blindsided, sideswiped just like our new car! After we got home, we looked at the reports and we were stupefied. We didn’t see angels and hear good news, we heard bad news and we were numb. Jac stayed home from work on Friday. We talked and prayed and processed. Yesterday I had a Leaders’ meeting in our home. Jac has been procrastinating putting the ornaments on our tree for a week. She didn’t want me to buy a new tree because the old tree had gone to the dumpster. While we had our Leaders’ meeting, Jac felt inspired to open the tins of our ornaments and trim the tree. Here’s her words: “Almost 44 years of memories are in those tins. Ornaments made by our small children. Ornaments of mission trips we’ve made throughout the years. Ornaments of vacations we’ve taken. Ornaments of our home church. Ornaments from the four churches we’ve served at. Ornaments from dear family and friends. As I was trimming the tree, I was really trimming my heart. I started to throw away some of the ornaments from Texas when my son of love said, “Mom, can you see that by going to Texas you met some really good people. People like Linda and Eddie. Imagine your life without Linda and Eddie?” Dave, I’ve been opening the gifts of HOPE, LOVE, JOY, and PEACE as I trimmed the tree. I really do have a wonderful life. Dave, no matter what news we got from the doctor—we have already received the GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY! There’s a baby in that manger and we better get ready to celebrate his Birthday!
This Advent Season I wondered if God would do it one more time—if God would help us open the real Gifts of Christmas: HOPE…LOVE…JOY… PEACE…
FOUR TIMES in three verses…the angels make it known that this really super great news…this shout it from the housetops and mountaintop news…is not just for the upper echelon…it’s for YOU…it’s for me…GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY!
It’s just like when George Bailey gets it…and he runs through Bedford Falls screaming, “I LOVE YOU BEDFORD FALLS…I LOVE YOU OLD MOVIE THEATRE..”
But the angel says to YOU, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Next Sunday is Christmas EVE. Be on the lookout this week for the REAL GIFTS of CHRISTMAS!
The Seed Christian Fellowship
Rancho Cucamonga, California 91701
December 17. 2017
Pastor Dave Peters
[i] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Is 12:1–6). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[ii] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Lk 2:8–20). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[iii] Megan Garber, "The Intense Competition to Be the World's Most-Decorated House," The Atlantic (12-19-14)
[iv] Bruce Thielemann, "Glory to God in the Lowest," Preaching Today,
[v] Darren Sweeney, "The touching moment a man sees color for the first time," fox8.com. April 13, 2017. Retrieved April 14, 2017.
[vi] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 815). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.