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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Joy to the World

Joy to the World



We hear the sounds of joy ringing out from every direction when we read the story of that first Christmas in the Bible.  At Jesus’ birth Mary cannot hold back her joy as she sings her Magnificat; “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… (Luke 1:46)


 Zechariah, the priest and father of John the Baptist, when he hears the good news, is filled with great joy and praises God with these words “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has blessed His people and redeemed them.  He has raised up a mighty Savior for us in the house of His servant David.”  (Luke 2:26)


 And when Simeon, a devout old man sees the baby Jesus in the temple with Mary and Joseph he bursts into joyful praise:  “Lord, let your servant depart in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people.  A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”  (Luke 2:29-32)  The Holy Spirit had shown Simeon that this baby was Israel’s’ Messiah.


On the night that Jesus was born, even Heaven celebrates with joy. In the fields near Bethlehem where shepherds were keeping their sheep “an angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone all around them…”  And then many angels filled the sky and burst forth with songs and praises to God and with the good news of great joy to the shepherds of the birth of their Savior.  (Luke 2:9-10).


The stories of that first Christmas are not only filled with great joy, but also with hints of persecution.  Herod plots to kill the baby Jesus.  There is resistance by this world’s rulers to the coming of the kingdom of God in Christ.  Two completely different kingdoms. The kingdom of Rome, like all worldly kingdoms that rule with wars and might, money and power and then the kingdom of God, a heavenly kingdom that rules with the Spirit, and with righteousness, love and peace.  So when Jesus comes ushering in the kingdom of heaven, persecution and murderous resistance follow not far behind.  So Christmas (Jesus) brings joy and persecution.  It did so then, and it does so now.


There were many people who had a role to play in that first Christmas long ago.  And also our Christmas today – Jesus entering our world – raises challenging questions for each of us too? Who are we in these stories? Each of us has a part!  What do we do when Jesus enters our world? Are we like the Magi who follow the star and refuse to go along with the ruler’s plot to find the baby Jesus and harm Him?  Or are we like Herod, threatened by Jesus’ coming and willing to use any means necessary to get rid of Him?  Could we be like the shepherds who listened to the angels and visited the baby Jesus?  Or maybe we are the inn keepers in Bethlehem who had no room for Him when He was born on that cold wintry night? Are we the soldiers who followed Herod’s orders and tried to kill the baby Jesus?  Or are we among those who yearn for the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace and so we yearn for the coming of Jesus?  What part do we play?     


A thousand year old Christmas hymn reads:  “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here. Until the Son of God appear.”  In this ancient song we are Israel – in exile, captive, mourning, lonely, longing.  Israel’s longing is a picture also of human longing.  But the chorus of this hymn goes: “Rejoice! Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”  We experience both longing and rejoicing as we make room for Jesus in our lives-as He is born in our hearts.  And we share the longing and the rejoicing of a Christmas past now in the Christmas present.  And there will also be a Christmas future.    


The stories of the first Christmas are about the present as well as the past.  The first stanza of the Christmas carol “Joy to the World” reads: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” The words are “the Lord is come”, not “the Lord has come” because Christmas is about the coming in the present of the Lord who also came long ago in the past.  Jesus comes again each Christmas.  The purpose of Advent and of celebrating Christmas is to bring the past into the present.


Another stanza in this carol reads: “Let every heart prepare Him room”.  We “prepare Him room” in our hearts by repenting of our sins. Advent is a season to prepare for Jesus to fill our hearts by repenting. And in another Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” the words ring out: “O holy Child of Bethlehem …be born in us today.”  Christmas is about the birth of Christ within us through the union of God’s Spirit with our flesh. Christ was born in Bethlehem on that first Christmas long ago and Christ waits to be born in our hearts today.  Will we prepare Him room?




Many of the words and ideas in this blog were taken from the last chapter, p. 227-244 of Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book, “The First Christmas”.     

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