Christmas and joy

Joy created by Christmas (sermon, parts of which are embedded in a nativity play)

halfELF service (Christvesper), , , automatically translated , Evangelical Free Church congregation Leichlingen

Introduction

The following sermon parts are included in a nativity play. For explanation, a short description is given of what happened before the sermon part.

Would we let Jesus in?

Mary and Joseph knocked at the inn and the innkeeper had offered them a place to sleep in the stable because everything else was full.

"The hostel is full, but there is still a place in the stable," said the hostel father.

This is how one usually imagines the situation at that time. The Bible text only says (Luke 2, 6.7; NGÜ):

6 Now while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to give birth. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, for they had not been given room in the shelter.

Maybe it was a hostel mother and not a hostel father. But obviously the couple was accepted into the shelter, even though there was not really any more room.

We can take a bit of a guess as to why they were included.

It may have been pity, for Mary was visibly heavily pregnant.

Perhaps it was also a kind of Jewish solidarity. Because of this Roman counting law, all kinds of people in Judea had to lead rather useless journeys and it was probably a huge chaos. And compatriots helped each other.

Or the hostel owner was simply business-minded. There was obviously a supply market for accommodation in the village at that time. Perhaps the hostel owner made money out of every little room in his hovel. So why not the stable as well?

What would we have actually done if we had been the hostel father?

Which motive would have been ours?

Or we would have rejected them saying, "It's full, it can't be done because it's against the rules."

Now if one knew beforehand that the child was the Son of God, then everyone would probably even have provided their own room.

The hostel father might even have moved into the stable himself and given Mary and Joseph his own room.

If only he had known!

This question is later taken up again by Jesus, when he was an adult, in a sermon when he talks about the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 25:34-40; NL):

34 Then the King (and here Jesus himself is meant) will say to those on his right: `Come, you are blessed by my Father, you shall inherit the kingdom of God which has been waiting for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your house. 36 I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you nursed me. I was in prison, and you visited me.' 37 Then these righteous ones will ask, `Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? When did we see you thirsty and give you drink? 38 When were you a stranger and we gave you hospitality? Or when were you naked and we clothed you? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40 And the king will answer them, `I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me!'

Joy in general

The shepherds decide to go to Bethlehem after hearing the angel.

Then the congregation sings the songs: "Rejoice world, the Lord is here" and "The first Noël".

The angel proclaimed good news for all people. Other Bible translations write, for example, "I proclaim great joy to you" or "I bring you good news about which all the people will rejoice".

The other day, I was listening in on a conversation with colleagues, and one of them said that he has the impression that the church is always about death. He himself likes to live, as he says, and finds this gloomy atmosphere in some churches strange.

I hope that this is not the case for you here with us. Today it is about great joy, which was announced at that time for all people, also for you, for everyone who is here today.

What is joy anyway?

Joy is the state of mind or primary emotion that arises in response to a pleasant situation or the memory of one. Depending on the intensity, it is expressed as a smile, laughter, a cry of joy or in an action.

That's what it says in Wikipedia (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freude), but pleasant situation? Is that it?

Certainly there is such situational joy, for example when one succeeds in something difficult. Or when you have a child? Or the fan is happy when the football club wins a match. Sometimes one is satisfied with very little.

But joyful situations are rather too few in the long run. Then you only live from event to event.

What about "joie de vivre"? That's something more permanent. Can there be such a thing? With all the ups and downs that always exist, that would be a fundamental, positive life, a being carried, perhaps.

But it all seems vague somehow.

Perhaps the topic of "joy" can be approached more from the other side.

What then robs one of joy? Or what prevents joy?

Envy, ingratitude, dissatisfaction, those are the feelings that come to mind.

Most of the time, you have such feelings when you believe that someone else is to blame for your situation. And maybe other people also make life difficult for you.

But I believe that it is also not insignificantly up to oneself whether one has joy or not.

I would like to look at a Bible passage on this (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NGÜ) where there are three exhortations:

16 Rejoice, whatever happens! 17 Let nothing distract you from prayer. 18 Give thanks to God in every situation. This is what he wants from you and what he has made possible for you through Jesus Christ.

Let us begin with the third exhortation: "Give thanks to God in every situation.

I don't think it's meant that you have to thank God for every bad experience. That would also be a bit disturbed, and there are too many prayers in the Bible that have been handed down, where people complain to God about their situation and strokes of fate and even throw up. A whole book in the Bible is called Lamentations, for example, and there people grumble and complain.

I think it is rather meant that in spite of all adversities and strokes of fate, one does not forget what one can be grateful for. The grateful look at God helps through sadness, suffering and also anger and helps one to be realistic with oneself even in extreme situations. And this basic gratitude also helps to overcome envy and become freer from it. And that is worthwhile, because we all know that envy can drive you crazy.

Let us go further backwards to the second invitation: "Do not stop praying."

Many people imagine "praying" as a ritual where you reel off memorised sentences. There is actually nothing like that in the Bible. There are songs sung together that can be prayers, and there is also the Lord's Prayer in two versions, which is a kind of blueprint for prayers, a guide when you don't have the words.

I see it more as it says in Psalm 62:9, NL:

Trust in him always, my people. Pour out your heart before him, for God is our refuge.

Everything that burdens you and also what makes you happy, you can bring to God in prayer. Find a quiet corner and pour out your heart before him. Tell him everything!

Also, what you have messed up, where you have hurt people, you can bring to him and ask him to find a solution to the situation and ask for the strength to apologise.

Pouring out one's heart to God can also solve dissatisfaction, because then things are finally spoken out, one perhaps also becomes clear to oneself about things that one had rather repressed before.

Of course, you can also talk to each other in pairs and also pray with God, with a trusted Christian together, if you feel you cannot manage alone.

And then we come to the first exhortation: "Be joyful always."

Of course, this is not about suppressing the unpleasant things in life. I have already said it and it is also clear to everyone that there will always be times of sadness and suffering, perhaps also of anger, and one has to face that.

But if you have not only a basic gratitude but also a basic cheerfulness, then the difficult times have their place in life but do not take over.

And that is possible. This is what the angel talks about in the Christmas story when he announces the great joy. Through this Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate every year, we can talk to God as to a friend, we can bring him all our worries, our sorrows and our joys, and we can also come to him with our misbehaviour, even with the bad things that we unfortunately sometimes do, intentionally or unintentionally, and he will forgive us and set out with us on a path of change for the better.

Joy all the way home

The wise men from the east leave Herod.

The congregation sings two verses of the song "Star over Bethlehem".

We have already seen a lot and heard a lot about joy. Are you already looking forward to home? Maybe for the presents?

I've been married for more than 20 years and even before we got married, it was already clear in my wife's family that adults don't give each other presents at Christmas, apart from spouses. That can be reasonable, because if you want something, you can just buy it.

My brother and I agreed that we didn't want that for my family of origin, and we always give each other tinnef for Christmas. The coolest present I got from him so far was an electric Nerf gun. I gave him a remote-controlled rocket last year. I got it really cheap on the internet.

I know that presents are not the core of Christmas and that is what is always criticised, this commercialism and this flood of presents. And as a contrast to that, it is always said that Christmas is a family celebration, that it is about having fellowship with others, and so on.

But it's not always so easy with the community. It's still traditional for extended family members to visit each other at Christmas. Personally, I'm lucky, we get along quite well, but that's probably not the case in all families.

Maybe that's the only reason why some people feel so much stress when they think about how they will have to entertain all the relatives and guests during the holidays.

The great joy that the angel promised us does not always seem to become visible.

I wish you that you have really nice holidays, that you get along well with your visitors and that when you give presents, you really get presents that you are happy about.

And I wish you that this Jesus, to whose birthday Christmas actually goes back, that this Jesus does not let you go. The joy that the angel announced back then is real. Jesus Christ wants to give you the basic joy of life and gratitude and carry you through good times and bad, in joy, but also in sorrow and suffering.

And, especially at Christmas, pour out your heart before him, for he wants to be your refuge.

Blessing

Deuteronomy 4, 6, 24-26; NL

24 May the Lord bless you and protect you. 25 May the Lord be kind to you and have mercy on you. 26 May the Lord be especially close to you and give you his peace.