Sunday, December 1, 2013

Exceeding Great JOY!

Luke 2 8-18 (The Message): There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."  At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises: "Glory to God in the heavenly heights,  Peace to all men and women on earth who please him."

On an episode of the TV show Rules of Engagement a few years ago one of the main female characters was beginning a new job. As she visited with friends over breakfast, one of the male leads, commenting on her low cut dress, wondered aloud if her new job was in "the world's oldest profession." Another male friend, Adam (who is a little slow on the uptake), chuckled under his breath. He then said, "HA!  He just called you a shepherd..."

Shepherds have long been laughed at. It has always amazed me that God chose to make His big birth announcement to shepherds.  Uneducated, smelly and all alone out in the fields, loved only by the sheep they looked out for, shepherds were pretty much at the bottom of the social barrel. It certainly seems an odd choice, and their initial reaction- "they were terrified"- must have had them looking for places to hide. But it was to them that the angel appeared and explained where to find the Christ-child. It was to them that the angel choir sang the magnificent words "Glory to God in the highest!" And it was them who ventured into Bethlehem to worship the newborn King and spread the word of His birth.

But of course God knew exactly what he was doing and chose exactly the right people. He chose people who were faithful. They listened to the angels and responded. They understood the exceeding great joy this announcement would bring to the people. And perhaps most importantly, they were common, unimportant and needy. They represented the very people to whom God was sending the gift of his Son. Jesus did not come just for the rich and the powerful- He was a gift to us all. The fact that God chose shepherds as his target audience for the only "flashy" part of that holy night speaks volumes. They were the very kind of common folk with whom Jesus would spend most of his life.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. During the next 4 weeks we will light candles representing peace, hope, love and joy. Once they got past being terrified, the shepherds certainly felt great joy. And today, those who understand the gift we were given that night so many years ago know that joy as well. We live in what is so often a joyless world. To know Jesus is to understand that we can find joy even when we don't know happiness. To follow Jesus is to understand that there is joy in the journey. As you go through this season of Advent, remember that the message of the angel's visit to the shepherds is that no matter how unimportant, powerless or smelly you feel, Jesus came for you.  Despite my sin and failures, Jesus was born so I could know God's love.  Talk about exceeding great joy...

Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

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