Joy.

This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, December 13, 2015.

Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

On this third Sunday of Advent we find ourselves in the middle of “the most wonderful time of the year.” If there hasn’t already…

There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow.

There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…[1]

…at least that’s what we’re told.

With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

It seems to me that more than just about any other holiday, Christmas really is dubbed as the

…hap- happiest season of all.
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call

It’s the hap- happiest season of all!

Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves—that’s what I tell myself. Like Clark Griswold, I want to have that fun, old-fashioned family Christmas only to find out that the Christmas tree’s too big for the room, there’s family tension, the lights don’t work, the turkey’s too dry and the budget is too tight. It makes for a great movie, but can be hellish to actually live out. That perfect Christmas where everything goes smoothly doesn’t exist; and, it never has. Christmas, far from being a time when everything goes smoothly, where everyone gets along, has always been a time of struggle.

If you’re struggling this morning to be cheery, know that its OK. Christmas is a difficult time. And, it always has been. Mary and Joseph were engaged when Mary turns up pregnant. Can you imagine Joseph’s reaction? He was well within his right to call of the wedding and have his fiancé stoned. Luckily, an angel appeared to him, but it still must have been a challenge to believe the story he was being told. And, what about Mary’s parents? They’re not mentioned in the Scriptures. How did they take the news? Did they kick they’re pregnant teenage daughter out? Did they disown her? Perhaps, that’s why Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth before the birth. Maybe her parents needed a little distance to figure out what they were going to do. Or did they believe their daughter? Did angels appear to them too? Some nine months later, a census would be called that would require Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem. The journey would have been painful as she sat in a wagon. With every rock and bump in the road she must have moaned in agony. Then they get to Bethlehem only to find out that the relative Joseph had intended to stay with had a full house. Instead of sleeping in the guestroom, they would have to sleep with the donkeys and sheep. It’s there, with hay in her hair, the room smelling like manure, that she would give birth to her first born son.

Far from the sanitized and beautiful scene we often make it, Christmas—the whole story—is filled with struggle and strife. And it always has been difficult. But it’s in the midst of that struggle that the heavens open, and an angel proclaims:

Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10b-11, Common English Bible)

Christmas isn’t about everyone being momentarily happy. It’s not about the gifts. It’s not about the stress. It’s not about the struggle. Christmas is about God’s love breaking into the world. That’s where we find true Christmas joy: it’s not in the parties, in the events and meetings. It’s not in the busy-ness, not even in all the extra church services. Joy is found in the coming of the Christ child: it’s found in the joy of knowing that God’s love and light are breaking the darkness.

Rooted in the knowledge of God’s unfailing love, Paul can say from prison—to a church in conflict at Philippi…

Rejoice[ in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The joy of Christmas isn’t found in the stuff we do at Christmas. It’s found by resting in the knowledge that Christ has come—that God’s love is here and it’s been offered to you, me and all the world. Joy is found not in a fleeting moment of happiness, but in an assurance that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, New Revised Standard Version). Joy is found in knowing, deep in your heart that Christ has come even in our darkest moments and has vowed never to leave.


[1] “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” by Andy Williams < http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/x-filesepisodes/itsthemostwonderfultimeoftheyear.htm> Accessed December 13, 2015.