Silent night, holy night,
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!
This holy season is a season of joy. The coming of the Christ child brings joy and the angels’ singing is an expression of that joy. The astounding thing about joy is that it is not dependent on what is going on around us. It is different in this way from happiness. The difference is that happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Happiness comes from the old English word ‘happ’, which literally means “chance.” It suggests that if things happen the way we want them to happen, then we are happy.
Joy, on the other hand does not come because something is happening or not happening. Joy is something that comes from within, it is something generated in us by the Holy Spirit as we draw strength from our relationship with God. When Paul cataloged the fruit of the Spirit, he chose his words carefully. The Greek word Paul used that we translate “joy” is the word chara. It is from the same family of words as that beautiful word, charis, “grace.” Charis, grace, is the basis for our Christian life. It is by charis that we experience chara. The joy in our lives comes because of grace.
It’s because joy is based on God’s grace in Christ and not on what is happening around us or to us, that we can understand Paul writing in Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. And I say again rejoice.” Note carefully what Paul says; not ‘rejoice for everything.’ There is no pleasure in sickness, or job loss, or family tension. There is no pleasure in knowing a loved one is dying. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” It’s not the outward circumstances that determine this rejoicing. It is our inner relationship with God. We rejoice “in God.” It is the relationship with God that gives us joy and strength even in the most difficult of circumstances.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” Charles Wesley wrote, and our beloved hymn “Silent Night” invites us to praise: “With the angels let us sing Alleluia to our King; Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!”
Dr. Seuss captured this beautifully in his beloved book How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Grinch, at the beginning of the story, “hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”
At the end of the story, after he had stolen all the trappings of the Christmas celebration from the Whos down in Who-ville, he heard singing. They were actually singing! They were joyous! They sang,
Welcome Christmas come this way
Welcome Christmas, Christmas day
Christmas day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp
Welcome Christmas bring your cheer
Welcome all Whos far and near
Christmas day will always be
Just so long as we have we
Welcome Christmas bring your light
Welcome Christmas, Christmas day
Welcome Christmas while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand
The Grinch was learning something important about the joy we celebrate at Christmas. That joy is not dependent on all the trappings he thought were the heart of the meaning of Christmas.
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!”
And what happened then . . . ? Well . . . in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”
Have you experienced that deep sense of joy, that all will be well, in the midst of a difficult time?
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Christmas Eve Services
Luke 2:8-20 (NRSV)
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Philippians 4:4-8 (NRSV)
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.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.