Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 2:10-11 Sermon
December 24, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
42 “O Come All Ye Faithful”
27 “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”
23 “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear”
24 “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night”
30 “Angels We Have Heard On High”
48 “What Child Is This?”
25 “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”
16 “Silent Night”
15 “Joy To The World”
JOY TO THE WORLD
TEXT: “But the angel said to [the shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’”
As most of you are aware, I am a police and fire department chaplain in Lincoln. I’ve been doing this for the last seven years. When I first started out, I would volunteer for duty on the major holidays, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I did this because I wasn’t serving a congregation at the time, and I was the only one who wasn’t married with a family. So to make life easier for the other chaplains, I did this until I started serving this congregation.
I knew that things happen on holidays, and those things can be tragic; however nothing could have really prepared me for Christmas Eve of 1999, just seven months after I had been commissioned.
It was about half past midnight when my pager went off. It was a suicide death call in an upper class neighborhood in south Lincoln.
A family had gathered together for Christmas. It was a husband, a wife, their daughter and son-in-law, and their eight-year-old grandson. At about midnight, the husband calmly went into the bedroom, closed the door, and blew his head off with a 12-gague shotgun. And I had the duty to counsel this family in their grief and shock.
In speaking with this man’s wife, she unfolded the whole story. The wife was a very devout Christian, as were the rest of the family. The husband who committed suicide however was not. In fact, he was openly antagonistic about God and any form of religion. She told me that his religion was golf, and that’s what he lived for.
He was 66 years old, and had just retired from being a CEO of a major corporation. He had a strong “type A” personality, and had thrived in the work environment. But since his retirement, he spent his time either on the golf course, or at home not doing much at all. He hated Christmas with a passion. And so, he decided to celebrate Christmas of 1999 by ruining it for his family and for everyone else who had to clean up the mess he left.
The wife looked me square in the eye and said, “Well, he’s in hell now. He chose to be there, and he definitely took the road that leads there.”
I was kind of surprised that she was that forthright about it. Usually families of suicide victims are looking for every shred of hope they can find to comfort themselves that their loved one somehow made it to heaven; but not in this case.
The wife continued, “I tried everything I could to keep him out of hell. I shared the faith with him, and I prayed for him constantly. I wanted him to be in heaven with me when he died. But I resolved to make his life on earth as happy as possible for him, because I know he’s not happy where he is now.”
As I talked to the watch commander after all this was over, he made the comment: “What’s Christmas going to be like for these people now? I just think of that eight-year-old grandson; for him, he’s going to forever remember Christmas as the day grandpa killed himself. It’s going to take a lot of effort for him to keep focused on the true meaning of Christmas.”
For our text this evening, I’ve chosen the section of the Christmas story from Luke 2 where the angels appear to the shepherds on the hills surrounding Bethlehem, and a portion of what they say. “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy…” We sing the Christmas Carol, “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.” Christmas is to be a time of great joy and happiness!
Joy and happiness?? Where was the joy and happiness for that family I talked about just a few minutes ago? Even though their faith was intact, yet there was no joy or happiness expressed when I was counseling them.
What about the thousands of troops who are spending their Christmas in Iraq this year? Do you think that they are joyful and happy spending their holiday separated from their families and friends?
Just a few days ago, I was watching the news. Charlie Gibson reported that the people in England are now on red alert, because the fundamentalist Muslim Al Quaeda has threatened to attack on the Christian Christmas holiday. How joyful and happy can you be when you’re looking over your shoulder in fear of some suicide bomber?
Peace and joy seem to be lacking so much in our society. On December 25, 1864 the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was feeling it too when he penned this verse in his Christmas carol, “I heard the bells on Christmas day”:
“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’"
Let’s get back to our text for this evening, and what those words mean: “But the angel said to [the shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’”
We all know that whatever the Lord puts forth as good and right and joyful, Satan will try to take away. The devil will attempt to rob us of any peace and joy that we are supposed to feel on Christmas, and replace it with anger and heartache and disappointment.
In fact, I think we could sit here and compile quite a list of things that we don’t like about Christmas and the whole holiday season. And in the church, we have quite a holiday season, don’t we? It begins with Thanksgiving, then Advent, then Christmas, then New Year, and then Epiphany.
There’s all the commercialism for one thing, and the crowds of people. I couldn’t believe all the people camped out at places like Best Buy just so they could buy the new Play Station—and then when you consider that only a limited number of them were made before Christmas just so this sort of thing would happen, it almost boggles the mind. And then to top it off, some people were buying them so they could turn around and re-sell them on Ebay for many thousands of dollars! Oh yeah, that’s the Christmas spirit all right!
Or what about the Christmas parties in various offices where the only objective is to see how much alcohol one can consume, and how foolish one can get; what a way to celebrate Jesus’ birthday!
And when we see the ACLU’s attempt on completely removing any reference to Christmas from the public sector, and we are made to feel guilty for wishing someone a Merry Christmas, then we know Satan is at work amongst us.
There are many things that I don’t like about Christmas, and I’ve just shared a few of those things with you. I would imagine you agree with me, and we could probably add more.
But you know, there are a lot of things I do like about Christmas and the whole holiday season, and I hope you do too. So let’s go back once again to our text for this evening to get it in proper perspective: “But the angel said to [the shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’”
The good news of great joy is Jesus. With him as the central focus of our celebration, everything else takes a back seat. God saw the sinful condition of the world, and out of nothing but his pure love he sent Jesus to this earth. Jesus left heaven and came to earth because he loves people like you and me.
The joyful announcement of this good news came first to the shepherds, who were tending their flocks all by themselves on the hills surrounding Bethlehem. They were working class people, just common folk. They weren’t the rulers or princes or the rich folk living in their ivory towers. God chose to send his angels to common people who were unencumbered by a lot of excess baggage. He knew that these shepherds would receive this message gladly and joyfully, and who would appreciate Jesus the Saviour for who he was.
That same announcement comes to us here this evening. A Saviour has been born! A simple, child-like faith draws us to the manger once again in spirit, where we behold Jesus who removes the burden of our sins, and bring us peace with God, making us members of his holy family.
Christmas has always been special for me; and as I look back over my 52 years on this earth, I still approach this day with a certain amount of awe and wonder, coupled with happiness and joy. I can’t imagine a Christmas without Jesus being the focal point of the celebration.
But when Jesus is removed from Christmas, what’s left? There’s nothing but this huge void that people try to fill with expensive presents, and excessive partying, and all of the secular trappings.
All I have to do is think back to that man who committed suicide on that Christmas Eve in 1999. He had a void in his life. Jesus wasn’t a part of him. For him, Christmas would have been nothing but a time for selfish people wanting expensive gifts, or a time when he would have to foot the bill for an office party, or hand out Christmas bonuses, or having to give everyone a holiday from work. He was a successful businessman with a huge void in his soul. There was no joy in his life, for he had vehemently rejected his Saviour and the good news he needed so badly.
This past week, I caught a news story on the radio. It seems that this man was so fed up with Christmas and all the hoopla, that he got out his chainsaw and proceeded to hack up his Christmas tree, decorations and all. Then he threw the whole thing into his wood stove, and left the house.
If you’ve ever burnt wood, you would know that pine burns very fast and hot; couple that with the fact that this would have been green and full of sap, and the situation only intensifies.
As you might have guessed, this man in his fit of temper not only burnt up his Christmas tree, but burnt up his whole house as well. Certainly not a whole lot of joy in his heart either.
This evening, as we have gathered here for worship, I sincerely hope that you have experienced the joy of this season. Hanging on the pulpit is this pretty blue parament, which depicts the angel sounding the trumpet with that single word, “joy.” That’s our word for this evening.
We have special music and sing special hymns and carols that we don’t use any other time of the year; in fact the first 57 hymns in our hymnal are devoted to Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. We have special decorations and special services like this one. We do all this to celebrate the birth of our Saviour with a spirit of joy.
Whatever happens, wherever you may happen to be, don’t let anyone or anything take that joy away from you. If it seems like people around you are acting like jerks, or if you are in a difficult situation, or you find yourself drowning in a sea of commercialism and political correctness, just remember the reason you celebrate Christmas. We must never let anything or anyone crowd Jesus out of our lives, nor remove him from being the central figure as we celebrate his birthday with joyful hearts.
The angels brought the message of good news and great joy to the shepherds. A Saviour had been born, and the world could rejoice. We can rejoice as well, for that is the same message that brings us forgiveness and peace.
As we leave our worship this evening, we will be doing so with the famous Christmas carol written by Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World.” In it, we are constrained to “Repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy.” May we do so this Christmas, and throughout our lives.