Joy, Great Joy

Norbert Lieth

She was never on the sunny side of life; on the contrary, she looked back on a life of darkness. Now she wanted to end her life on Christmas Eve. She had tidied up the apartment, the pills lay ready, and the water on the stove was boiling. She had just put the overdose in a large mug and poured water in it, when the doorbell rang. Outside stood a group of young people who sang a Christmas carol. That’s all I need in my situation, she thought.

After they had sung, they handed her an envelope with a small amount of money, a Christmas CD and the greeting, “Merry Christmas.” Then the group said goodbye, but for her the way to a new life began.

This is the night in which appeared
The great God’s kindness.
The child whom all the angels serve
Brings light in my darkness,
And this light for the world and heaven
Shines brighter than a hundred thousand suns.

Where did this woman find true and lasting joy, a joy that remains in times of sadness because it is of a different kind?

We find the answer in a remark someone once made, “True joy came down from heaven.” Another person said very fittingly, “Joy is not the absence of sorrow, but the presence of God.”

These two remarks describe the wonder of Christmas. A good 2,000 years ago, Jesus came into the world to bring joy. Human sins like unrighteousness, selfishness and greed rob the world again and again of this joy. But since Jesus Christ came to earth, the good news is as Luke says, “To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:77-79).

The Gospels describe the birth of Jesus, the first Christmas. In the foreground is joy. It is mentioned four times. Christmas is, in the truest sense of the word, the feast of joy.

1. The first time that joy is mentioned is when Mary was pregnant and she visited her cousin Elisabeth, who was also pregnant. When Elisabeth saw Mary, she said, “For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:44). Elisabeth had been childless for a long time. This was particularly tragic at that time in Israel. Many saw in it a punishment from God and looked down on Elisabeth. In those days the children took care of their aged parents, but Elisabeth’s old age was not taken care of. She must have worried a lot and felt worthless, lonely, despised and without hope. Then suddenly, everything changed. Elisabeth gave birth to a son, and he was to pave the way for Jesus. In connection with Jesus, everything was suddenly full of life, joy and meaning.

Do you perhaps think, “What does my life amount to? What have I accomplished? My state is not good. I brought nothing into this world, and I won’t leave much behind. I am worthless, useless, and that is why I am sad.”

Meet with Jesus. Everything can change.

2. The second time we read of joy in the story of Christmas is regarding Mary herself, the mother of Jesus. When she miraculously became pregnant, she said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46-47).

Mary came from the disreputable and insignificant place, Nazareth. She was of a poor background and still very young. She married into a working-class family and did not amount to anything. Her name means “bitterness” or “sorrow.” Yet Jesus turned her life upside down and it became joyful. In her the Son of God was conceived of the Holy Spirit, as the Gospels say. The “bitterness” was turned into joy.

Bethlehem, where Jesus was to be born, and Nazareth, were later visited by millions of pilgrims. Today, they belong to the most famous places in the world. And Mary herself became probably the most significant woman in world history.

Are you an insignificant person? Do you belong to the insecure and afflicted? God wants to turn your life upside down and, spiritually speaking, Jesus wants to live in you. Let Him in, because God has something for you to do.

3. The third joy of the Christmas story, we see with the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. Luke relates, “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:9-11).

Shepherds were not thought much of at that time and had no rights. They often had nowhere to live. Most of them could not read or write. They were on a level with thieves and swindlers. In religious Israel, it was forbidden to buy from them because it might be stolen. For this reason, they were not allowed to be witnesses in a court. They had to look after the sheep of others, because they did not own anything. They were mostly coarse, unkempt people.

But the work of a shepherd demanded much responsibility and conscientiousness. They were on call day and night, and their work was not without danger. They had to protect their flocks against wild animals and robbers.

Today, shepherds have a good reputation. Shepherds are never missing from a nativity scene.

You also, my dear reader, are called to be a witness of great joy. Perhaps you are rough and unsociable. You are industrious and conscientious, but not a high-ranking person. You clean the rooms of others, build houses for others, do the washing for others, tend the garden of others, take out the garbage for others. You have no high-ranking contacts. Then you are in good company with the shepherds, and the message of the angel applies to you.

4. Finally, the joy in connection with the birth of Jesus is mentioned a fourth time, by the wise men from the east. Matthew writes:

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:10-11).

The wise men possessed, in contrast to the shepherds, money, knowledge and esteem, but they lacked the most important thing: an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Savior. So, in actual fact, they did not have anything more than the shepherds.

After their meeting with Jesus, however, the wise men became bearers of hope. Just as over the centuries, innumerable people have found redemption and abundant joy.

God wants to give us more than status, esteem and wealth. He wants to give us the treasures of joy. He wants to take us out of our daily routine and give us a meaningful life. Pleasure can be bought, but joy can only be given; and gifts should be accepted.

These four examples show us that Jesus came into the world for all, and no one is excluded:

– He came for those who have no prospects, like Elisabeth.

– He came for insignificant people like Mary.

– He came for those who feel worthless and disrespected, like the shepherds.

– And for the intellectuals and esteemed, like the wise men.

All of them were full of joy when they made room for Jesus in their hearts.

A palliative nurse once said, that many people at the end of their lives regretted not allowing themselves to be happy. Jesus is joy personified; allow Him to fill your life.

If you want to, pray the following prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, I am suffering from my lack of perspective and hopelessness, and feel insignificant. Guilt weighs on me, and in spite of all appearance, I suffer from inner loneliness. You came into the world; come into my life—Amen.”  

Advent means “coming,” “be prepared.”
Soon it will be Advent
A feast of love and joyful hearts
With many lights and candles.

Jesus once came to Bethlehem
In a stable, not very comfortable.
He came as a light in the dark night
And has made a minus a plus.

The light is also a ray of hope.
Fear disappears; the night has to flee.
The light brings life and energy
And brings warmth and harmony.

When we, instead of lamenting the night
Turn on a light unashamedly,
The instant brightness shining forth
Brings hope; it is Advent.

Jesus once proclaimed love,
Love that conquers evil.
Where love is, God is present.
Joy is here; it is Advent. 

-Edgar Bräuning

Midnight Call - 12/2017

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