Think about the way you felt on December 24th when you were a child. You could hardly wait for the next day to arrive, and the anticipation made it difficult to fall asleep. Well, there were some shepherds who felt that way on the first Christmas Eve, but their excitement wasn’t just about what was to come; they were excited by what they’d already heard and seen. Considering that God had been silent for centuries, the angelic message was an astonishing announcement made to unlikely recipients.
Have you ever wondered why God wanted to reveal His Son’s birth to lowly shepherds instead of the leaders of Israel, or why He allowed His Son to be born in a stable? Since the Lord never does anything haphazardly, both choices are significant. It is appropriate that these men were the first to hear about Jesus, the Good Shepherd who “lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). And there was perhaps no more fitting a birthplace for “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” than a shelter built for livestock (1:29).
To help you understand how astounding this encounter was, consider what you would do if an angel appeared in your church and announced Jesus was coming back tomorrow. How would you feel? Could you simply brush it off and go to sleep that night, or would you be like the shepherds who immediately searched for the Messiah and told everyone what they’d experienced?
What would you do if an angel appeared in your church and announced Jesus was coming back tomorrow?
This was truly “good news of great joy . . . for all the people” (Luke 2:10). The angel was proclaiming that God would provide salvation for mankind through a tiny baby lying in a manger. What’s interesting is that euangelion, the Greek word for “good news,” is also translated as “gospel” in other parts of the New Testament. In essence, the entire life of Christ—His conception by the Holy Spirit, birth to the virgin Mary, death on a cross for our sin, resurrection from the dead, and ascension to the Father, as well as His promise to come again—can be summed up in this one word.
Christ is the source of our joy.
Most exciting announcements bring immediate happiness, but afterward, the emotional high evaporates, leaving us unchanged. However, when we believe the good news and accept Jesus as our Savior, the joy is lasting and transformative. We can be content because His Holy Spirit is always with us. And as we abide in Him like a branch in a vine, His life flows through us, and the Spirit produces fruit (John 15:4, 11; Gal. 5:22-23).
The New Testament gives us many reasons to celebrate. John spoke of the mutual happiness that comes from being with fellow believers (2 John 1:12). Titus was thrilled because of the Corinthians’ obedience, and the churches in Macedonia discovered the satisfaction of sacrificial giving (2 Cor. 7:13; 8:1-2). Jesus spoke of the fullness of joy that comes from hearing His words and receiving answers to prayers offered in His name (John 17:13; 16:24).
We can even rejoice because of suffering. Jesus said to be glad when we are insulted and persecuted for His sake, because our reward is great in heaven (Matt. 5:11-12). Paul recommended exulting in tribulation because it produces perseverance, character, and hope (Rom. 5:3-4). And Peter says it tests our faith and results in praise and glory when the Lord returns (1 Pet. 1:6-8).
It’s not that we are happy about hardship, but we can exult in God’s good purposes for allowing it.
As you can see, the joy Christ gives us is unique. It’s not that we are happy about hardship, but we can exult in God’s good purposes for allowing it. Our delight is in Christ—what He has done for us, how He is working in us, and what He promises in eternity. This is so contrary to our human tendencies. That’s why our focus is important.
Where are you looking for joy? In the hope that the good life would bring happiness, maybe you’ve tried to arrange your circumstances, only to be disappointed. But happiness isn’t something you can create. Jesus is the only one who can give lasting gladness in every situation, whether good or bad.
He is the source of our strength.
When the shepherds heard about the Messiah, their elation propelled them into action. They couldn’t keep the news to themselves. Christ’s joy is powerful. And as was true of the shepherds, it should likewise transform and motivate us to serve Him.
A joyful life is the most appealing witness you and I will ever display to a lost and hurting world. People are searching for joy in all the wrong places, so when they see us going through pain, trouble, and conflict with calm contentment and peace of mind, the door opens for us to share the message of a Savior who came to give new life.
As you celebrate Christmas, remember Nehemiah’s words to the people of Israel: “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). When they heard the Scriptures read to them, they wept and mourned because of their sin. However, Nehemiah told them not to grieve but to celebrate, give gifts, and rejoice because the day was holy.
It sounds a lot like Christmas, doesn’t it? This is our holy day—a time to rejoice in the Lord with great festivity, presents, and the fellowship of loved ones. God wants us to enjoy this day by honoring Jesus Christ and celebrating with one another.
Even if your circumstances aren’t perfect this Christmas, don’t give up your joy. It’s a precious gift from Christ, and He wants you to have it to the full this day and every day. Christmas is just a preview of what awaits us in heaven—uninterrupted and uninhibited delight in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that alone is reason to celebrate.
Adapted from the sermon “Great Joy” by Charles F. Stanley