Shout For Joy
Somewhere in a restaurant in Paris, there is a picture of children leaping in the air, because of great joy they experienced. It was taken on the day Paris was liberated from Nazi Germany. Those children just knew, without learning all the details – “It's time to celebrate! All the people in our city seems so happy!” And they danced for joy. Some people who saw that picture expressed that there couldn't be anything greater to bring such joy not only to children's hearts, but all people's hearts. But we all know, there was something far greater, something far more significant...and that brought us here this Christmas morning. We are filled with joy, because our Saviour has been born. His coming wasn't just for the liberation of Paris, but the entire world. We sings hymns and songs of joy, because nothing can be greater. That was the same joy the people of old experienced just before and after the first Christmas. There were Mary and Elizabeth whose excitement and joy went beyond that of just an ordinary parent. You see, they rejoiced, because they heard angelic messages that their children will be important parts of God’s salvation plan. I think you will agree with me – their joy, because of that, reached a level beyond ordinary human understanding. There were the angels on the fields of Ephrata the night Jesus was born. They gave the shepherds the scare of their lives. Those angels couldn't be quiet. They had to break out in jubilation when they either sang or spoke, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those on whom His favour rests.”
We cannot neglect to mention two elderly people who were filled with the deepest joy – Simeon and Anna at the temple. In particular Simeon expressed his reason for joy. His eyes had seen the Saviour of the world.
And as the list continues for reasons to rejoice from Jesus' coming right to our time, we have to ask the question, “What happened to 'Joy to the world'?” Many people say, “Christmas joy isn't really my joy. When the season is over it's back to the reality of hardships, division and even wars this world has to deal with. How can Christmas change the situation in Ukraine?”, they ask. But you see my friends, over the centuries God's people allowed the joy and excitement of Christmas to wear off. Too many of God's children joined a secular way of celebrating Christmas. It became the world's celebration. The essence of Jesus' coming got lost along the way - “To you the Saviour has been born.”
Like many times in the Old Testament, in the days of Isaiah, God's people lost their way. They didn't take God seriously. They didn't show reverence for God; their worship became lame. To them it was like going through the motions. And then God wanted them to learn for themselves how doomed they were without Him. Their exile in Babylon was both physical and spiritual. They hit rock bottom. They had been emptied from all of their self righteousness. They were ready to open their ears to God again. And you see the words from Isaiah were timely not just for Israel, but every generation after them. Our generation has to hear the message again this Christmas morning. God broke into this world by sending His Son, not that people should get carried away by the sentiments of a baby in a manger, but come to the realization – Jesus came to restore our lives.
On Christmas we first of all Shout For Joy, because 1 Salvation Has Been Given. Isaiah spoke about a nation at war. He takes us back to the home front where the people were nervously waiting. They congregated and talked about their prospects if any. Their future looked so dim. “How is the battle going to turn out?”, was the question on their lips and in their hearts. On the corner towers, watchmen were posted, diligently scanning the horizon as they waited. Who would they see approaching the city first? A messenger carrying news of victory? Or the first of the enemy troops, coming to finish the job and take the residents of the city captive permanently? And then in their mood of despair Isaiah exclaimed in joy, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of a herald, who proclaims peace and preaches good news, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God is king’” The victory was at hand. The time of shame, ridicule and isolation was almost over. God their King was going to restore them. His salvation was going to reach far beyond any military offence or conflict. In fact His salvation was going to reach over centuries and centuries that everybody coming to Him, will be gathered as a multitude that He delivered.
That is the same message on Christmas. Your God is King and He is here. You see, we too live in in occupied territory, but the Messiah has arrived. Our occupied territory is spiritual as we read in Ephesians 6: 12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This battle against authorities and powers and forces is one we could never win by ourselves. But you see, the Child in the manger was destined to grow up and fight for God's people. Because of His salvation we became more than conquerors. No battle can ever be too fierce to overcome us, for our King came and He is here. Friends, we can Shout For Joy for our salvation is certain. Again we can embrace the words of the angel that told the shepherds, “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 and 11.
Isaiah continued his message of joy – 2 The Ruins Had Been Rebuilt. Listen again to verses 8 and 9, “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.” The ruins of Jerusalem were restored for the people of God to know – “We have returned to the glory we had before we rebelled against God. Now we know that our God is gracious; He did not wipe us out, because of our sins.” But then my friends - hearts and lives that have been ruined by the ravages of sin have been cleansed and healed – that’s why we sing at Christmas. Our spiritual homes that looked like ruins had been changed into a dwelling for the Lord. In Ephesians 2: 22 St. Paul wrote, “And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” The restoration of ruins sin brought about is a reason to Shout For Joy. Some commentaries describe the shout for joy by the watchmen in Isaiah's time as a cacophony – a harsh, discordant mixtures of sounds. There was no melody of notes been put together – just a loud noise to the Lord.
Isaiah concluded his message of joy – 3 A Savior Has Come For All Nations. For much of what we read in the bible, God’s mighty and powerful acts were focused on His chosen people – the Israelites. Not that God didn’t care about others, and not that there weren’t other followers of God in the world, but the focus was on the ancestors of the Messiah. But the good news is, that baby in the manger wasn’t just for good people with the right background. He didn’t come just to set free a certain kind of people. He didn’t come just to save those who have been trying hard all along. He came for sinners. He came for you and He came for me. Isaiah confirmed God's salvation for the entire world in verse 10, “The Lord will lay bare His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” What is the wonderful reality of Christmas? Jesus Christ came for all people on every continent we can think off. By God's grace we in this country like those in Europe and Asia all were included. To us a Saviour was born. May His coming transform our lives more and more.
Rev. Willem H. van de Wall