Joy to the World – a homily

Thursday, December 24th, 2015 – Christmas Eve
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: Luke 1:46-55, Luke 2:1-14
Hymns: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, “Joy to the World”, “What Child Is This?”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
Special Music: “Silent Night”

Joy to the World

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
It seems like that’s been a very hard statement to hold true to over the last year. There has been so much that has conspired to rob the world of its joy, and hide from our eyes the fact that our Lord has indeed come. Domestic terrorism in South Carolina, Tennessee, Oregon, and California has filled us with fear. International terrorism in France, Lebanon, and Iraq has only served to reinforce our fears. Politicians have preyed on our fears from both directions, playing cards of violence, warfare, race, and sexism to take our eyes off of the source of our joy and fix them on earthly things.
It’s a sad statement that we’ve strayed so far from being joyful and so far into being fearful. Three hundred sixty-five times the Bible exhorts us to fear not – one for each day of the year – with the most relevant to our celebration of the birth of Christ being the one in which the angel told the shepherds to fear not, for behold, he brought them good tidings of great joy, which were to be to all people.
Consider Mary’s words at the beginning of the Magnificat. She was just days removed from being informed by the angel Gabriel that she, an unmarried teenage girl, was going to give birth to a child who would be the promised Messiah of the Jewish people. And yet, instead of exclaiming to God in fear, she said, “My soul MAGNIFIES the Lord and my spirit REJOICES in God my Savior.” She chose to not be afraid, but rather to focus on the joy of her situation. Fear had no place in her situation. Similarly, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, so too should we banish fear from our lives and rejoice in the coming of our King.
Speaking of which…
Let earth receive her King!
So many different “kings” have been crowned in our culture in the last year. Many of us sat or stood in the AFC back on February 1st and watched Super Bowl 49, which inexplicably ended with the Seattle Seahawks choosing to not use one of the best running backs in the game to score the winning touchdown, instead sending quarterback Russell Wilson to throw an ill-fated pass that would be intercepted by New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, and launching a thousand Internet memes about how “the Butler did it.”
And so, the Patriots were crowned king of the NFL, just as the Ohio State Buckeyes were crowned king of college football three weeks beforehand, and the sporting world would go on to make kings of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Golden State Warriors, the Portland Timbers, American Pharaoh, Kyle Busch, and yes, even the Kansas City Royals over the remainder of the year. These are the people we look to as kings and at times even worship as false idols. And perhaps this is in a vain attempt to turn away from those fears that cripple us and reclaim some sort of joy. But the joy of victory in a sporting event is but fleeting fulfillment.
Our obsessions with these kings far too often distract us from the King of kings, the one who arrived in our world and in our lives on the night when the angels sang. Far too often, we willingly allow this distraction. But Mary made clear that God was not the kind of king who sought the glory of man. Indeed, she said, “He has brought the powerful down from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” Our God has not commanded us to seek the kings of glory in our days, but instead to seek after the King who was born in the most humble of circumstances, the one who came to make the first last and the last first. He seeks not a throne or a crown, but only room to dwell in the hearts of those who would follow Him.
Speaking of which…
Let every heart prepare Him room!
Oh boy. Let’s talk about how in the last year, the hearts of the people seem to have been utterly closed off from granting a room to Jesus. As Christians, we have been told, no, COMMANDED to love both our neighbors AND our enemies. There is no wiggle room here, no grey area, no place for debate. Jesus gave us very clear instructions, and when we fail to follow them, we are failing to prepare Him room.
Whether it’s been reactions to Black Lives Matter protestors, or reactions to police officers nationwide, or reactions to the military, or reactions to immigrants, or reactions to the same sex marriage ruling, or reactions to Muslims, or reactions to Republicans/Democrats/insert party of your choice here, the hearts of the people have demonstrated a distinct lack of love for neighbor and enemy alike. There has been a remarkable coldness that has enveloped hearts in our land in the last year, and what almost seems like a forsaking of the love that Christ commanded us to show.
Mary tells us of God’s love for Israel: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.” Israel had demonstrated a significant lack of love for God for centuries. They had disregarded his commandments, had rebelled against him, had not changed their ways even after horrifying exiles to Babylon and Assyria. And yet, God loved them over and over again, showing mercy toward His people, and sending them His Son – mercy which they would repay by ignoring His teachings and allowing their leaders to hand Him over to Rome for crucifixion.
But God loved them through all of that, and afterwards. So too are we commanded to love one another as God first loved us. It’s not easy, for sure, but if we are to prepare room in our hearts for Christ the King, then we must love all who are our neighbors and enemies alike; yes, even the vulgar loudmouth with the bad haircut who embodies the worst of the turning away from Christ’s love. We are called to demonstrate that love together as the body of Christ, to join in one chorus and sing the praises of Christ’s love.
Speaking of which…
Let heaven and nature sing.
There is good news to be found in all this fear, all this idolatry, all this hatred. Even in the most dire of circumstances, there is no ground too barren, no heart too dark for the love of Christ to take root. God is far greater than all our human circumstance, and as John Calvin said many centuries ago, the grace of God is irresistible. No matter our hardness of heart, the grace of God is so powerful that we will receive it whether we think ourselves worthy or not. “The Mighty One has done great things for me,” Mary said, “and holy is His name.”
The name of the Lord is indeed holy and great, and we are given the great gift of love through the birth of the only Son, Jesus Christ. And so it is that we, as the body of Christ, join together in the great hymn of joy:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing.

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