A Sermon for Christmas Eve (Midnight) 2016 “The Gift of Joy”

Old Testament Lesson  Isaiah 9:2-7

Second Lesson  Titus 2:11-14

Gospel Lesson  Luke 2:1-20

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this night is the Gospel lesson just read.  [Luke 2:1-20]

Can you remember learning to ride a bicycle?  For some of us maybe it’s been too many years, but I’ll bet even those of you in my generation, and above, remember teaching someone else to ride.  Remember how that felt?  Remember the fear as you let go of the bike hoping that the next few moments wouldn’t see disaster; falling, crashing, skin scraping disaster?

And then remember the joy that followed.  That little one riding off, maybe a little unsteady, maybe not too confidently, but riding off in joy; thrilled to be out there independently balancing life on two wheels.

In the Gospel lesson tonight we saw fear turned to joy.  We heard: 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 fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.

Just imagine the fear those shepherds must have felt.  Seeing an angel of the Lord appear to them … out of nowhere!  And not some cuddly little cherub with cute little wings and a tiny bow; but a mighty warrior, a member of the heavenly host.  An angel that knew his sudden appearance would trigger fear among these sleepy shepherds; and so his first words to them were, “Fear not.”

Imagine the fear; then imagine, that after a few brief remarks, For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” This angel who told you not to be afraid would be joined by a multitude of angels, each as scary as the first.  And the shepherds are going to heed the angel’s words and not fear?

With all this happening … out of nowhere … in the middle of the night …of course they were going to be afraid.  But the angel had told them not to fear; and somehow they held it all together and listened to the multitude of angels singing; and what they angels had to say was convincing.

It must have been convincing because the fear was gone.  We hear: When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

No fear, only excitement, exhilaration, and a very focused vision of what they must do.  This joy the angel spoke of wiped away their fear.  This joy made these lowly shepherds fearless!  This is what heavenly joy does.  This isn’t just a good feeling.  This isn’t adrenaline or some happy, giddy, emotion. Emotion alone wouldn’t lead you to leave your flock and hurry into town to see what’d happened.

No, this is much more than a feeling.  This is joy; and it moves you beyond emotion to a state of being; one that’s not swayed by what happens in the moment, but instead reflects a person’s identity.  This is a gift of joy that moves you beyond fear.  It moves you into trust and love that fills your heart, enabling you to act boldly.

Remember that deep inner joy you experienced as you got past the fear of watching your loved one ride off on that bicycle; independently balancing life on two wheels?  That was good, but this is much, much more.

This joy is a gift from God.  It identifies you as his dear child.  And although you too are a child that sometimes rides off independently, balancing life on two wheels, a child that rides boldly along; when you crash, when you fall, when you scrape your skin; and it hurts, the Spirit mends your brokenness and holds on to you, never truly letting go of you even though you attempt to independently cruise through life without falling flat on the ground.

God has given you the faith you need to trust in the Spirit, and the Spirit is with you, no matter how often you fall. That’s the joy of living in Christ.

We are sinners.  We do fail.  We do set out independently to conquer the world, we do set out to balance life on two wheels; and in our sin we crash and burn.  It fills us with fear, but in his grace, God comes to us and turns our fear into joy.  Not with kind, but empty, words that would simply make us feel better, but with real, substantial words, meaningful words and actions that change our very identities.

Words like: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Words like: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Words like: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” 

These are words that turn fear into joy.  These are words spoken by the Coming One in whom the angels rejoiced that Christmas Eve night so many years ago.

And so I invite you to let God, in his mercy, open your fearful heart so that you may be taken by him to Bethlehem to see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.  When he takes you there your fear will be turned into joy.  You’ll know your Savior; the Word who was with God in the beginning; the Word who is God; the Word by whom all things were made.  You’ll know the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The One who’s risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

Through his Word and Sacraments, God has made you his own dear child.  Your sins are forgiven and you belong to him; “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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.

Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle