(Please read Luke 2:8-20 & 1 Peter 1:3-12 from your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to conduct my research.)
Last Christmas, grandpa was feeling his age and found that shopping for Christmas gifts had become too difficult. So he decided to send checks to everyone instead. In each card he wrote, "Buy your own present!" and mailed them early. In the usual flurry of family festivities he noticed the grandkids were a bit cold to him; a couple were downright angry. Puzzled over this, he went into his study to get some time alone to think about it. It was then he saw the gift checks which he had forgotten to enclose with the cards.
Today we begin a journey that will end at a cattle pen near a village that had a lot of history, but not much to recommend it at the moment. Advent is a significant time in the church calendar, one of two seasons of preparation. I felt lead, this Advent, to explore some of the reactions to Jesus that people in the Bible demonstrated. My prayer is that these studies will encourage us to be mindful of our own Advent Attitudes.
This thought is not original to me. Darrell L. Bock expressed a similar line of thought in his commentary of the Gospel of Luke: “The variety of reactions to the birth of Jesus noted here should not surprise us. People respond to him differently. Some are amazed, but do not engage him at any deeper level. Others offer praise, while others ponder what Jesus means. There is no doubt that in this passage Mary and the shepherds are the exemplary characters, reflecting the testimony and obedience that should characterize saints.” (p. 89-90)
We begin this series with JOY because it is the most common reaction to the birth of Jesus. With the exception of King Herod, everybody in the biblical accounts seems really thrilled that God has brought this about.
Jesus brings joy to His people.
1. Jesus’ birth brought joy to the Shepherds (Luke 2)
The angels predicted the Holy Birth would bring GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY to ALL THE PEOPLE (10). GOOD NEWS is the Greek word from which we get our English word “gospel.” It is significant that very word was used to announce the birth of Emperor Augustus. Luke tried to evoke a similar vibe among his readers.
The angels promised GREAT JOY. It was “great” in the sense of being giant-sized. The size of the JOY is measured by the size of the recipients: ALL THE PEOPLE. The size of the JOY is measured by the reactions of the shepherds.
Then angels promised that God intended this joy to be for ALL THE PEOPLE. This is one measure of the significance of Jesus’ birth: it is important not to just one family or even one nation, but to ALL PEOPLE. This is also the reason why the world must know and part of what motivated the shepherds to go and spread the word. For us as well, the world must know so we must go tell them.
Another measure of the JOY is how the shepherds wasted no time checking it out (vs. 15-16). They quickly agreed this was worth looking into and decided to go together (v. 15). In fact, verse sixteen testifies that they HURRIED OFF to find the family in Bethlehem.
They wasted no time, spreading the word immediately (vs. 20, 16-17). This is another reaction you’d anticipate from someone feeling GREAT JOY.
Luke may have these verses a little out of chronological order. In terms of how the events happened, verse 20 should precede verses seventeen to nineteen. Verse twenty describes the immediate effect on the shepherds; verses seventeen to nineteen describe the effect of their testimony on others.
First, the shepherds worshiped God. Luke wrote that they returned to their flocks GLORIFYING AND PRAISING GOD. They were gratified they’d had seen the Savior with their own eyes, that everything was just as the angels had promised.
Second, they told everyone about it. The response to their excited witness is amazement (v. 18), except for Mary, who treasured these revelations and PONDERED them (v. 19).
2. Jesus’ life brings joy to His followers (1PR 1).
Jesus Joy gets us through tough times (v. 6). Peter wrote about our LIVING HOPE; a future God created for us through the RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST. This HOPE shields us, protecting us until our salvation is REVEALED IN THE LAST TIME. He wrote IN THIS YOU GREATLY REJOICE. Remember, the angels announcing Jesus’ birth said it was GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY. Here is that expression again.
The JOY Jesus brings helps us endure GRIEF from ALL KINDS OF TRIALS. Verse seven explains God’s purpose in trials; he uses them to “refine” our faith, the most precious thing we have. While we might prefer that God refine our faith by gentler means, it is in trials that we most appreciate the value of our relationship with God.
Peter also encourages us to know our TRIALS - even the ones that are life-long - are only temporary. They last only FOR A LITTLE WHILE. Heaven is eternal. In trials we most eagerly desire our deliverance, our salvation.
Jesus Joy is INEXPRESSIBLE and GLORIOUS because it is based on our salvation (vs. 8+9). Jesus Joy is so wonderful, so supernatural, Peter wrote that it is INEXPRESSIBLE! This JOY is so deep it challenges our vocabulary to describe it. It challenges our hearts to contain it. It challenges us to properly express it in our words and deeds. It is so contrary to ordinary worldly experiences, it defies all attempts to draw comparisons.
GLORIOUS means it is divine (from God). It reflects the being, character, and will of God. As our salvation comes from Him, so does this JOY that flows from our salvation.
In the Greek New Testament, the word JOY is written in the form of a command. Peter is not just saying JOY is available to them, he is commanding them to observe it.
Jesus brings joy to His people.
It was the last case before the court went on Christmas break. The judge was to wrap it up and allow everyone to leave. Without waiting for the bailiff to announce the case, the judge barked at the prisoner, “What are you charged with?” The prisoner replied, “Doing my Christmas shopping too early.” “That's no crime,” said the judge. “Just how early were you doing this shopping?” “Before the store opened,” he said.
I don’t imagine that guy made it home for Christmas. When all your plans and the extra responsibilities of the season threaten to make you crazy, do us all a favor and remember the first and greatest Advent Attitude is JOY. Begin each day of Advent with that thought and see how it transforms the season. Seek joy for yourself and to share it with others.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Edwin A. Blume.
The NIV Bible Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock.