How much joy was there in the shepherds’ lives at that moment? Because of their occupation they could not enter the temple nor be listed amongst the rich and famous of their time, and their country was ruled by the Romans. Not much prospect of a prosperous new year for them. And yet, the angel specifically used the words “great joy”.
“Joy to the World” we sing at Christmas time but how much joy is there in our world at the moment? – a rather bleak statement for the beginning of the year! As I read our Christmas cards and greetings, 3 friends have contracted cancer, others now have a debilitating illness and then there was the news of the missing Air Asia aeroplane, the siege in the coffee shop, the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and many more unpleasant happenings in our part of the world and beyond. On New Year,s Eve someone made the remark that “here’s hoping 2015 will be better than 2014” but do we have any guarantee of that? With the lack of wisdom and leadership in all our political parties at the moment, I really can’t see bright lights on the horizon, or am I being just too negative, or maybe it is my age group.
As I ponder these thoughts I keep going back to that phrase the angel used “good news of great joy”. God doesn’t say things he doesn’t mean so therefore the birth of Jesus must have meant that something really really good had happened. When Jesus commenced his teaching ministry, people were expecting him to be the messiah who would rescue them from the Romans and restore their land, but Jesus wasn’t that sort of messiah. Instead, he came to restore our relationship with the Father, God. It is as if we are destined to live in a sinful or broken world while at the same time, enjoying the benefits of a relationship with a loving God. Those looking for the true Messiah would have understood Jesus’ teaching of a heavenly kingdom, a “kingdom not of this world”, and yet we still have to live our lives in the here and now, however pleasant or unpleasant that may be.
The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus.....” (Hebrews 12:1-2). There are times in our life when faith in what the Bible tells us is the only thing we have to keep us going. So when all seems gloom and doom, remember the words of the angel that first Christmas ....“good news of great joy” for therein lies our hope.