How do we embrace this joy from God which Christmas calls us to? We know, we surely know, that it is not meant to be a one day phenomenon. The shepherds guide us in living Christmas. The first principle of application is the most simple. They went. Not only did they go, they went with haste. It takes two to make a relationship. After my first date with Jolynn, my wife, I was so impressed I couldn’t believe she’d really want to date me. Rather than risk rejection, I decided I wasn’t going to bother calling her again. Thank God for Eric McKinney. He said, “Let her make that decision. You can at least show her you’re interested in a relationship.” The same is to be said for our relationship with God. He has come to us so that we might go to him. The angel’s announcement of good news is an invitation to go to God. Faith which transforms fields of fear into pastures of peace is born in the simple act of going to God. Notice with me the second very straightforward application of great joy. “So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child” Luke 2:16-17). They shared what they had seen and heard. They formed the first community of praise and service. It is instructive that this was a community endeavor. There was none of this nonsense of a private spiritual quest. Our relationship with God lives and grows in the sharing. The more we give it away, the more it comes back to us. There is no private truth here but a public offering. Where is the greatest joy for you at Christmas? If I ask myself that question, the answer comes easily. The greatest joy is in the sharing. This is a part of the purpose of gift giving. The object is not how much loot I can accumulate, but rather to experience the good news of great joy. Such an experience comes in sharing as those shepherds first discovered. For this night to be more than a pause in the parade of life but to become what it is meant to be – the defining moment – it must be shared. Shared not just by being together but by sharing the message and purpose of the angel’s announcement; the sign of God’s salvation in a baby born to us and for us. The third application of great joy is demonstrated in what the shepherds did when they left the manger. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20). They offered praise to God. The act of praise transforms our spirits, cements our relationship, and bonds our allegiance. Praise is an act which carries within its being the power to make this more than just a one night stand. The fourth application of living Christmas is unmistakably straightforward and unmistakably counter cultural. The news of this night is not restricted for the right of the believing few. Look again at what the Bible teaches. The good news of great joy for all people comes initially to shepherds in a field. Shepherds had to work all the time, even on the Sabbath. They were known for their tough irreligious coarseness. Ask the good people of that day what groups were outside the faith and one group they would mention would be shepherds. And yet, it is to them the angels first came with the news. Or consider Mary and Joseph, the holy couple. They might pass for that day’s version of the middle class. Status and rank they did not have. Wealth was not theirs. And yet they of all people are most blest. And then there were the heavenly host. The great army of God’s angels like the stars above proclaims the good news of great joy for all people. There can be no doubt, none at all, this news of God’s birth, love, presence and care is for all people. Whoever you are, wherever you have been, whatever you have done, the Lord of all creation offers Himself to you this night in grace, an amazing radically free forgiving and redeeming love. When I was Senior Pastor of University UMC in San Antonio one of my parishioners passed on a story about ministry we shared in at that church. It is a ministry many of our Central Texas Conference churches share in. One man wrote of his experience of good news of great joy for all people: “....I was serving a jail sentence. It was the greatest mistake I had ever made. ....Surely God had washed his hands of me..... Near Christmas I started looking for a present I could send my daughter to let her know I still loved her. ...in a catalogue I found a ...gold chain with a charm that read: ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’. ... [but] I discovered that I had missed the deadline for Christmas delivery. I sent a card instead. “Christmas Day came. When I called home my wife thanked me for the gift that had arrived for our daughter. I [was] confused. Then I remembered filling out an application with the prison's Angel Tree ministry. Someone would send my daughter a present in my name. “‘It’s a beautiful gold chain,’ my wife said ‘with a charm that says ‘Daddy's Little Girl.’’ No one had known about the necklace—except God. And he sent his ministering angels to show me I wasn’t forgotten” (E-mail titled “Under the Angel Tree” by Michael Montalvo for Guidepost). The story is not over. Christmas is far from finished. It is to be lived out in the coming New Year of our Lord 2016.
- Go to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
- Share what you have seen and heard.
- Offer praise to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit
- Remember, the Gospel is for Everyone.