That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. (Luke 2:8-20, NLT)
The third song of Advent is the Song of Joy. What can we learn about joy from this interaction between the shepherds and the angelic choir? First, joy is available to everyone. It doesn’t surprise us that angels arrive singing songs of joy. What is surprising is that the shepherds would also experience joy. They were ceremonially unclean, which didn’t allow them to enter the Temple for worship. They were stereotyped as unreliable and untruthful, which meant that they were forbidden from giving testimony in a court of law. Shepherds were among the most marginalized people in the community. They were so marginalized that when the angels appeared their response was one of terror. Why would God come to them? Why would they be privy to such a grand announcement? Their only concept of God was of a God who judged sinners, yet the angels brought them good news.
The second thing we learn is that joy is an “inside” job that finds its source in Christ. The person of Christ brings joy. Through this encounter the shepherds realized that they were included, valued and loved by God. Is there anything that appears more innocent than a baby? Look at the contrast: the innocent baby Jesus and the guilty shepherds. Jesus was enough to satisfy their need for joy. Is he enough for you?
Next, joy is the by-product of grace and peace. God’s grace brings God’s peace which results in joy. The apostle Peter described this joy as “unspeakable and full of glory.”
Finally, we see that joy is not limited to experiences or events. Joy is available regardless of your personal circumstances. The shepherds found joy at the manger, but they didn’t leave their joy in the manger. Nothing externally changed for the shepherds: they returned to the same job in the same fields taking care of the same sheep. All on the same day. But they returned with joy.
If joy is available to everyone and its not dependent on our circumstances, they why is there so little joy in our day to day lives? Here are two possible suggestions:
1. The absence of joy in my life could be due to the lack of grace and peace. You can never know grace and peace until you personally experience Christ.
2. The lack of joy in my life is could be due to my focus on finding joy from external sources. At some point we need to become honest with ourselves. The next job, the next house, the next toy, the next car, the next outfit, the next relationship, the next “you fill in the blank” will not produce joy in your life. The stuff of today is nothing more than the stuff of garage sales tomorrow.
May this Christmas season fill your heart with songs of joy as you consider the grace and peace he has brought to your life.