Christmastime brings with it a ubiquity of gospel opportunity—that is, it is much cooler to explain the joyful news of Christmas at Christmastime... go figure. It's not every month that we in the west are afforded the cultural opportunity to be more outspoken about the good news of the Advent. So when this time of year comes around, I want to take full advantage of it! For our church, that means doing things like The Big Give. But for me personally, it must also mean reflecting on the reason that the joyful news is so, well, joyful.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Potential Joy We all live in the state of potential joy in Jesus. That's great news—that anyone, at anytime, is a prime candidate for the joyous news of Jesus' coming for their rescue... even shepherds who occupied the bottom of the social ladder in a backwater, nowhere town. Of course, the irony of the Gospel is that it's precisely our lowliness which qualifies us. The more familiar we are with our own unworthiness, the nearer we find ourselves to the outbreak of gospel joy.
Realized Joy What's exciting about this passage, though, isn't just the potential for joy, but it's realization. Five minutes prior to the angels' arrival, none of them would've expected that they'd be running toward a tumbledown barn to view God's boy in utter and total joy and awe. But it happened anyway. That's good news, too—that at any moment, even one of mundane, job-oriented boredom, God can bust open a tear in Heaven and change everything by the proclamation of good news... of the gospel.
Shared Joy Immediately after this experience, these shepherds moved to the highest state of joy in Christ: shared joy. Lewis and Piper both like to tell us that joy isn't really, fully experienced until it's shared. If that's true, then these men experienced a very full joy. As they ran to see their hopes in the face of an infant, they not only experienced the gospel joy of Jesus himself, but of seeing that joy in one another. This is the taste of Heaven itself; the multifaceted, prismatic wonder of Jesus-fueled joy in the face of others. This motivates mission, this inspires passion, and this consummates gospel proclamation.
Speaking of gospel-fired joy, Jonathan Edwards said,
This light, and this only, will bring the soul to a saving close with Christ. It conforms the heart to the gospel, mortifies its enmity and opposition against the scheme of salvation therein revealed: it causes the heart to embrace the joyful tidings, and entirely to adhere to, and acquiesce in the revelation of Christ as our Savior.
So Lord, move me from potential joy in Jesus to a fuller place. For this joy is my goal and my hope.