Today’s offering is a simple one as the “festive frenzy” sets in: watch the (what I’ve been told by a few is actually quite nauseating) animated version of Joy to the world below – paying careful attention to the sheep.
What went through your mind when, in the midst of all the joy and wonder, the one sheep went out into the darkness to sit sadly and gaze out at the surrounding hills?
For me, I am struck in Luke’s retelling of the shepherd’s story by the fact that those people of the land who came and saw the Son of God in the cradle just had to share the news with the city folk who were unaware.
Today, I invite you to share in some small way, the joy you’ve been given in Christ with another.
The setting is a field near Bethlehem. It is a summer’s night; a good time to be out in the open after the day’s scorching heat. Shepherds are tending their sheep; this is their workplace – away from the hustle and bustle of city life and city conveniences. Jesus has just been born in a stable not far away.
Suddenly, they are flooded with light, an angel announces Jesus’ birth, and then – then an incredible thing happens: a great choir of angels appears, singing praise to God in heaven and peace to us on earth.
The Saviour has born in the town of Bethlehem – the Messiah, the Lord. He is the crocus in the desert, the water in the wilderness, the way of Holiness through which God’s people can enter into Zion with everlasting joy on their lips as sorrow and sighing flee away (see Isaiah 35).
And the response is a greeting that spans the the entire range of creation from the angels’ song in heaven to the shepherds’ welcome on earth as the highest and the lowliest join in the wonder and welcome of Jesus born for us.
In this time of drought and devastating fire, of deep dissatisfaction with politicians and climate-change deniers, of unprecedented levels of domestic violence and depression it is highly significant that the prayer that Jesus will one day teach his followers to pray – on earth as it is in heaven – is made manifest in this moment of his birth, out on the periphery, among the am ha-aretz: the people of the land – for they are the ones who know most deeply the fragility of life and the hard work required to survive, let alone flourish in the dry places ….
May our thoughts today express all the melodies and harmonies of heaven as we ask for the open hand of God to bless the land and all the creatures on it.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
To all looking for Joy in the midst of the world’s troubles …
One of my all-time favourite movies is an animated film titled “Inside Out” which is set almost entirely inside the head of an 11-year old girl named Riley. Inside there, five main characters – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust – work (somewhat together) to help her navigate her way through her world.
It’s well worth watching – on your own or with the grandkids – as the manic pixie-like character named Joy struggles to keep Riley happy after a stressful cross-country move and a difficult period at work for Riley’s father by dismissing the voices of all the other characters.
In the end, Joy discovers that her significance is much more than making Riley feel upbeat and positive all the time and that the experience of life as meaningful and worthwhile requires that Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust live and work alongside her too.
As we light the third candle in our advent wreath, we open ourselves up to Joy of the shepherds who were the first to receive the glorious news of the birth of Christ, the promised Messiah. The purpose behind the angel’s tidings was to bring good news that would cause great joy for all the people: people living under the oppressive force of Roman power, religious legalism, and poverty.
As the pronouncement sent the shepherds on a journey from their fields to seek the truth for themselves, may we bear glad witness to God-with-us on the highest mountains and in the shadows of the deepest valleys.
For use in congregations/communities who light a candle each Sunday in Advent leading up to Christmas following the traditional pattern of prophets (hope), Mary and Joseph (faith), shepherds (joy), angels (peace) and Jesus (love) … a simple poem/prayer in five parts with an additional “verse” to be said as a conclusion to the prayer time until the final verse is offered on Christmas Day.
A candle for the Christ-King
For whom the prophets said to wait;
He may seem slow in coming
but we know God’s never late …
This one is for his parents
On their trip to Bethlehem
For they believed the promise
That God would be with them …
The third is for the shepherds
Whose hearts were full of joy
As angels came to tell them
About a special baby boy …
Oh! How those angels worshipped
and their song rang through the air:
“Glory be to God on high:
His peace be everywhere.”
And now, with great excitement,
We light the final flame –
For Love has come into the world;
Christ Jesus is his name.
This verse is to be said on weeks 1, 2, 3 and 4 to explain the presence of the unlit candles. On Christmas Day it is replaced with the final verse.
These candles still are waiting
For their chance to shine –
they remind us to be ready
for a very special time ….