Experiencing Great Joy This Christmas
Nothing about Jesus’ entry into this world was as we would have expected. The Messiah, the King of kings was born in a barn, in desperate circumstances to a young girl who was a virgin. Definitely not the typical situation, right? The first people other than his parents to know of the Messiah’s arrival were a group of shepherds–the most unlikely of people to hear this good news.
Shepherds were considered societal nobodies. They were looked down upon, were poor, filthy and smelled like sheep. They lived most of their lives outside and on the outskirts of society, missing out on most of the things in life that others enjoyed. Despite this, God chose shepherds to be the first to hear the joyous news that the Messiah had finally arrived!
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”” – Luke 2:8-14 NIV
The shepherds were going about their life and duties, trying to protect their sheep throughout the night, when the most amazing thing happened. An angel appeared out of nowhere to announce the best news ever. Can you even imagine what that would have been like for the shepherds? This wasn’t just any message brought to them by a courier, or word of mouth that eventually reached their ears long after it happened. No, this was the full red carpet experience rolled out before their very eyes. We tend to skip past the details of the messengers in this story to get to the message, but this was a wondrous and miraculous event of the shepherds experiencing the presence of God like few other people ever had.
Not only did an angel appear to them, but it says that the “glory of the Lord shone around them”–we’re talking about a supernatural phenomenon. It would’ve been similar to the glow that surrounded Moses as he came down the mountain with the ten commandments after encountering God. To add to that, a heavenly host, the armies of God, joined the party! No wonder they were in awe and terrified!
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’”
Luke 2:10-11 NIV
This announcement was one that the people of God had been longing to hear. For over 700 years, since the prophet Isaiah first prophesied the coming of the Messiah, the people of God had been anxiously waiting for the Messiah to come to rescue and redeem them. The good news that they had been waiting on in faith for generations had finally arrived! What joyous news! This was the announcement of the century and they got a front row seat to it.
How blessed and honored by God these shepherds must have felt to receive this very special message from the Lord. It was the best birth announcement ever! They got an invitation straight from the heavens to witness the most miraculous event in all of history–the birth of the Son of God.
“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.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him [Jesus], they spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” – Luke 2:15-20 NIV
These lowly shepherds were chosen by God to become the first messengers of His joyous good news–that His son had come to bring joy to all people. Their joy was that they got to experience God’s good news even before they carried it to others. They received a glimpse that night that the world was really bigger and more amazing than they had even imagined. They got to see a greater reality, a window into the kingdom of God. This experience showed them that God had more for them than they even knew. Their lives would never be the same after encountering the glory of God that night and beholding their savior in the manger. I can only imagine that it was the joy they experienced that transformed them into people who proclaimed God’s amazing works and His good news that will bring joy to ALL people. For it is in Christ’s presence that we receive the fullness of true and lasting joy!
In the Christmas song “O Holy Night,” the second line says: “Long lay the world, in sin and error, pining. ’Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” That night while watching their sheep, the shepherds’ world got turned upside down and they felt their worth in God. Their circumstances in life may not have changed, but they were changed. They were transformed by the coming of the Messiah. He brought them great joy that night, and we too get to experience that great joy!
It is in the moment that Jesus was born, when He appears in the world, that our souls now know their worth. How joyous that God would become human for us–to exchange heaven for earth to endure hardship, pain, loss and all this broken world offers. He came for us! God’s great love sent Jesus for our sake–that is the good news that today continues to bring us great joy!
Joy can be a difficult thing to have when life feels chaotic and busy. There are so many distractions that can steal our joy. But we can have the joy Christ brings no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, because our worth lies securely in the fact that God chose us and loves us with a love that never fails.
Father God, we are filled with such joy remembering the very first Christmas, knowing that you brought to us the best gift of all–Jesus! Thank you for your great love for us and for sending your Son to redeem us. We are filled with such joy over the good news of Christ!