December 10: True Joy!
December 10, 2015
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
by Josh Moody Each year our family has a tradition of opening one Advent Bible reading starting on December 1 and finishing on Christmas Day, December 25. This year I am sharing those Bible readings with some thoughts based on them for use as a devotional during this season. To receive these Advent readings directly in your inbox, sign up here. Luke 2:8-12:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.This text is made famous nowadays for being the passage that Linus quotes at the end of the endearing little Peanuts movie about Christmas! He is finally asked, after much exasperation from Charlie Brown, to tell everyone the real meaning of Christmas. “I’ll tell you, Charlie Brown,” and he steps up to the microphone, the lights in the house dim, the spotlight is on Linus, and he recites this passage from Luke’s Gospel. This is the real meaning of Christmas. What does it mean for us this Christmas? Here are four lessons about the meaning of Christmas this year derived from what I will call affectionately the “Linus Christmas passage”:
- It’s not about the commercialization of gifts and presents and “things.” Most people reading this post will recognize this point as something of a tired “trope” recited ad nauseam by preachers at Christmastime. But the reason why it is such a common warning is because it is such a common trap. Everyone enjoys receiving something nice for Christmas. Everyone is happy – at least for a moment – when they open a present under the tree and it is exactly what they wanted. On the other hand, as you grow older, such moments are less frequent, and even when you are young they are short-lived. Who among us can honestly remember what we received for Christmas even last year? No, the real “magic” of Christmas is something far more than what you can buy in a store.
- It’s not about social feelings of good will to one another. This is a less common warning sounded from the pulpit because it can come across as being “Scrooge-like,” but Christmas is not simply about good will and cheer to all people around us. It is a good thing to be kind at Christmas, and that “Christmas spirit” is certainly worth maintaining, and doing so far beyond the mere confines of Advent. But the message of Christmas is emptied of any real meaning if it is merely about being kind. Why be kind at Christmas instead of at any other time of the year? Why make a special effort at Christmas to celebrate Christmas if the celebration is merely about being generous to each other? Christmas will “run out of steam” as a celebration unless it has some distinct meaning far beyond a winter solstice respite from the cold, or a tradition passed down from generation to generation. Traditions, when good, are good things, but they too will disappear unless we know the “why,” a reason for them.
- It is good news! That is, Christmas is essentially a message, a message about Someone, a message that is intrinsically, and overwhelmingly, positive and encouraging and enlightening and uplifting. This is why we are spending time looking at the Christmas story during these devotionals. There is a message to Christmas. Christmas is not only an experience, it has cognitive content; it has meaning because it has a message. What is that message? Essentially it is a message about the breaking into this world of a divine Savior in the person of a human baby. That message is so extraordinary, certainly supernatural, so mind-blowing, that when encapsulated, when verbalized, when expressed, when depicted, it has unerring power to move beyond human limitations and cause the hardest hearted to melt in tears before the baby of Bethlehem.
- It causes great joy! That is, Christmas has something about it that can lighten the darkness of the most traumatized, as well as further give reason for rejoicing to those who are more temperate or whose circumstances are less challenging. It is well-known in the caring professions that the “holidays,” the Christmas season, is the worst season of the year for marital conflict, family meltdowns, depressive events, and the like. There are at least two reasons for this. One, during the Christmas season people spend a lot more time with each other. Increased interaction either highlights the positive value of those relationships, or forces into close proximity those who are barely on speaking terms. Two, the expectations of Christmas as a materialistic, experiential event are so elevated in our culture that anything that does not live up to these unattainable goals is a letdown. If at any other time of the year we had one tenth of the experience of most of our Christmases, we would be ecstatic. But do they live up the joy of the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life? By the same token people we love who are not with us are doubly missed at Christmas. The cure for such Christmas letdowns, for whatever reason, is to understand the real nature of the joy of Christmas – which is, as Linus and Luke would both say, “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Focus on Him, the Christ King born in poverty for your salvation, and joy will follow.
While shepherds watched Their flocks by night All seated on the ground The angel of the Lord came down And glory shone around Fear not,” he said, For mighty dread Had seized their troubled minds ‘Glad tidings of great joy I bring To you and all mankind.’ ‘To you in David’s Town this day Is born of David’s line The Savior who is Christ the Lord And this shall be the sign.’ ‘The heavenly Babe You there shall find To human view displayed And meanly wrapped In swathing bands And in a manger laid.’
“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” by Nahum Tate]]>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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