“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.” Luke 2:10
When the angel came to the shepherds, the first thing he said was “Don’t be afraid.” That always seems to be the first thing angels say throughout the Bible!
Then the angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy.”
Shepherds were the lowest on the class totem pole in Israel. Because they worked with animals, they were considered “ceremonially unclean” to enter the temple. They lived in the fields and caves with the sheep. (Have you ever smelled sheep? And no hot showers available in a cave? That might be another reason they were shunned by common folk!) They may have wondered what could bring them great joy and why were they singled out for this message?
The angel Gabriel also said to Mary, “Don’t be afraid.” Then he said, “You have found favor with God.” Notice he didn’t say “favor that will make your life amazing and easy.” He didn’t show up with a balloon bouquet from the prize patrol.
We know that Mary’s life wasn’t easy. She may have had happy moments but the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and life could not have been conducive to happiness for His mother. Being pregnant before she and Joseph were married was a dangerous position in which to be. It could have cost her her life. Seeing Jesus hated and shunned by the Pharisees and rejected by the people of His own hometown of Nazareth had to be heartbreaking. And then to be at the foot of His cross watching His suffering, wondering why, if He was God’s Son, God didn’t save Him? That would have been almost more than any mother could bear.
But we know that Mary did have great joy.
Happiness is different than joy. Happiness is dependent on our circumstances. It’s superficial. Joy is deeper than happiness. We can be filled with joy in spite of our circumstances. Mary was filled with joy in spite of being an unwed mom and giving birth in a cave. The shepherds also rejoiced after the angel’s message and went to see the baby Jesus.
I am blessed to witness this type of joy twice each month. My golden doodle, Ellie and I visit the residents at Country View county home every other week. Ellie enjoys our visits because she gets lots of petting and treats. The residents love the visits because she brings them joy
Many of the residents have extreme physical challenges–amputations, lack of mobility and other hardships. Mental illness is common. All of their earthly possessions are housed in an area smaller than my master bathroom.
Yet, I see joy when we visit.
Not long ago one of our friends at Country View was sitting in the lobby talking to another resident when we walked in. With a loud squeal of delight, her arms flew around my puppy’s neck and she buried her face in Ellie’s soft fur. She repeated over and over in a muffled voice, “I love you Ellie!” When she finally looked up, a wide smile spread across her face and her eyes sparkled.
She told the activities person who was with us, “I was having a bad day, but now Ellie has changed my day!”
Nothing else had changed. She was still in the same living situation. Her mental and physical disadvantages were still part of her life.
She recognized the difference between happiness and joy.
Do we recognize this difference? Are we chasing material things and less-than-satisfying relationships for our happiness?
Only a relationship with Jesus can bring us true joy. His spirit allows us to persevere through difficult circumstances, not with happiness, but with peace and the joy that Mary experienced knowing her son who was also her savior.
Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your son Jesus to earth so that we can experience true joy that only comes from walking through life with Him. Help us to reflect the joy of your birth and life and resurrection in our lives, not just at Christmas, but every day of the year. Amen.