By Victor Knowles
Being a shepherd was probably a fairly grim slog. Bethlehem was not Rome. Sheep are somewhat dense and have a tendency to go astray. Tending sheep could be a bore and a chore. So the shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks that night had no particular reason to be joyful. Until the night sky lit up like a movie set and an angel appeared on the scene and on “Take One” said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11).
George Frideric Handel wrote the musical score for Isaac Watts’s beloved hymn, “Joy to the World!” I cannot imagine either great man not being filled with a sense of overwhelming joy as the words and score were written:
Joy to the world! The Lord is come . . .
Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns.
However, not everyone is filled with joy at Christmastime. At the beginning of A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge was as far removed from joy as a man could be. Charles Dickens described him as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” Even those who acknowledge Christmas in some fashion today do not always have a Christian joy in their hearts. Watts implored:
Let earth receive her King . . .
Let men their songs employ.
Not everyone has received Jesus Christ as King. This is why they do not and cannot experience the true joy of the Christmas season. Not so, the humble shepherds.
The Not-So-Silent Night
The informed and transformed Bethlehem shepherds were filled with “great joy.” They hurried into the city and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger. They became the world’s first itinerant evangelists, happily spreading the glad tidings about the newborn Christ to everyone they met. Then they returned to their flocks and “let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20, The Message).
This “Silent Night” had become a rather noisy night. But it was good noise because they had witnessed good news. I’m convinced those shepherds were never the same. For they had seen the true Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
Redemption from sin and adoption as God’s children are the double benefit and blessing of God sending his Son to be born in Bethlehem. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5, English Standard Version). God sent Jesus on a rescue mission, “so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law” (MSG).
Surely this is reason to rejoice and be glad! Charles Wesley wrote:
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
It was a blessing to be brought up in a Christian home. Every Christmas Eve my father would read to us the timeless and treasured account of the birth of the Son of God in Luke’s Gospel. My mother would let us help her put together a charming cardboard manger set that I still have. I never grew tired of hearing the amazing story of a redemptive shuttle mission—God coming to earth in the form of a little baby boy. (Where do you think the creator of Superman got this idea?)
When I was 12 years old, I gave my life to Christ and since that decisive day, life for me has never been the same. Now, 57 years later, I have enduring Prince of Peace joy, knowing that because of Christ’s miraculous birth, sinless life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection, I have pardon from sin, peace in my heart, protection from evil, and provision for eternal life.
A Savior Was Born
Our grandson Jack, age 9, who lives in Texas with his parents and younger brother John, is a little evangelist. One day he came home from Vacation Bible School full of enthusiasm. He said to his mother, “Mom, let’s go to everyone in town and say: ‘Well, do you love Jesus or do you want to go to Hell, or what?’”
Recently I asked Jack why the birth of Christ brings him such joy. He said, “Grandpa, because he would be everyone’s Savior!” Jack understands the message of the Christmas angel: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born unto you” (Luke 2:11, NIV). From Texas to Teheran, everyone needs Jesus to be their Savior so they may discover and experience the joy of salvation.
A retiree from Discover Card®, Elaine Fleenor Hawkins from Belleville, Illinois, has made the best discovery of all: “That in the vast, incomprehensible universe, God not only created tiny Earth to be a home for his magnum opus—he also saw our helpless, sinful condition and emptied Heaven of its Prince that we might be his forever. Who wouldn’t be filled with joy to be so favored?!”
Barbara Rendel is president of ScatterJOY, a nonprofit ministry in Kentucky that spreads the joy of Jesus through service to under-resourced people, providing food, clothing, and shelter. She grew up as one of seven children who, with their parents, attended the Sugartree Ridge Church of Christ in Ohio. “We found a lot of joy through the message of Christmas that we learned there. That little church always had wonderful preachers who taught us the true meaning of Christmas. All the children were involved in the Christmas programs, reciting the beautiful Scriptures and poetry that became a part of our heritage. The music was fabulous all the time, but at Christmas it was wow!
“Through the teaching of my family and through the teaching at my little church, I learned that Jesus came into this world that glorious night—not to be someone glamorous but to be our Savior. He came to die for us. He came to serve, not to be served. Reflecting on that message of Jesus, I have come to realize my greatest joy at Christmas is serving others. I want everyone to know about him and his saving grace. I want to scatter as much joy as I can. With as many as I can. For as long as I can!”
Christmas Joy Around the World
Let us travel to the other side of the world. Dr. Garland Bare, a retired missionary now living in Joplin, Missouri, recalls a joy-filled Christmas, even without lights. “Working among tribes in the mountainous Thai-Laos frontier in the early 1950s, we preceded the introduction of electricity. In a village of the Mien tribe, villagers lighted their path with pine torches. They entered the dirt-floored home of the village headman. A wood fire provided the only illumination. Here, for the first time, they heard the glad tidings of the Light of the World who arrived as a baby in far-off Bethlehem.
“A village of the Lu tribe was more sophisticated. Kerosene lamps with hemp wicks had been crafted out of tin cans. Villagers crowded around a pressure lamp where a missionary displayed a picture chart showing the infant Jesus visited by shepherds and magi.
“Later flashlights and batteries became available to light the path for believers and inquirers who gathered to hear the story of a Savior who could deliver them from the demon power that had terrorized their lives. The account of his birth struck a universal chord of sympathy and wonder.
“As the church developed, we witnessed a joyous gift exchange without Christmas shopping. Believers exchanged homemade woven items, embroidery, and basketry. Produce from their gardens was also gifted, including coconuts, pineapples, bamboo sprouts, and eggs. God’s greatest gift inspires his followers to be joyful givers.”
Christmas is truly all about the joy of giving. The late Dale Evans Rogers said that Christmas is love in action. She explained, “When you love someone, you give to them, as God gives to us. The greatest gift he ever gave was the Person of his Son, sent to us in human form so that we might know what God the Father is really like! Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.”
This is the ultimate joy of Christ’s birth!
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, Missouri.
Cut Down on Christmas Stress
• “Top 12 Ways to Beat Holiday Stress” by Michele Borboa (sheknows.com)
“Keep your kids in check. Adults aren’t the only ones who feel stressed during the Christmas season. Children are quite perceptive and can take on your stress, as well.”
• “Want a Stress and Anger Free Christmas?” by beatinganger.com
“Think ahead. What normally sets you off at Christmas? . . . Identifying the sources of our anger and what triggers it is key to responding to a situation.”
• “How to Beat Holiday Stress and Depression” by Laura Captari (aacc.net)
“For many families this Christmas, there will be an empty chair at the table—a parent, spouse or loved one who has recently passed away. Holidays have a way of triggering memories and making grief fresh. From a mental health perspective, it’s important not to suppress grief. Process it together with your family, a trusted friend, or a counselor.”
• “How Couples Can Beat Holiday Stress” by Roy Milam (marriageministry.org)
“Set a date night in December. Too many ‘must-do’ events leave no time for you as a couple. So plan a night out-or ‘in’ after the kids are asleep. If you can’t schedule one, then maybe you’re over-committed.”