Good tidings of great joy

Friday December 23, 2016 Written by Published in Church Talk
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IN ‘A CHRISTMAS Carol’ written by the English author Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew Fred, captures the magic of this sacred time of the year by reflecting that…


“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round ... as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their ... hearts freely, and to think of (other) people. ... And therefore, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

Goodness and kindness fill the air as we arrive at another festive season. Greetings and salutations are abundant on the streets and even the odd nod and friendly gesture from the stranger is acknowledged.

Christmas is a “pleasant time” where the human heart is a little more receptive, a little more accepting for about a month of the calendar year.

It’s an exciting time for everyone. Add to this Santa Claus and his reindeer, the Christmas tree and radiant Christmas lights, the dazzling decorations, the inspiring scenes of Christ’s birth, and it’s no wonder Christmas is such a beloved time of year.

And then, of course, there’s the music. Nothing highlights the deep meaning and gentle spirit of the season quite like a Christmas carol. Whether the melodies are cheerful, reflective, or nostalgic, there’s something about Christmas that inspires glorious music. These wonderful Christmas harmonies lift our spirits and remind us of the reason for our rejoicing.

But we all know that too often the spirit of Christmas can become dominated and even lost in the frantic pace and pressures of shopping, transactions, and tight schedules.

The hustle and bustle of Christmas traffic, getting lost in the flurry of the crowds, and attending joyful events small and large that bring people together at this time of the year.

I believe it is possible to get a balance of both the temporary joy that Santa Claus brings to the season and the eternal joy that the birth of our saviour Jesus Christ offers the world. If we were to take away Santa Claus from Christmas, will Christmas as we know it continue to exist?

Would Christmas revert to just another religious celebration, just like Easter? The combination of the temporary secular joy of gift giving and the eternal gifts that God has provided for us, helps to make the Christmas season as Scrooge’s nephew mentioned, “I have always thought of Christmas time…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time”

I embrace the festivities that come with the season, I wear my Santa hat, and one of our family traditions is that we put up our Christmas tree on the first day of December while listening to Christmas carols. Our three son’s and their families continue with this tradition even though they are all living overseas.

On Christmas day as part of their Christmas day devotion, they will read from (Luke 2:1-20) so that the children become familiar with the Christmas story. A prayer of thanksgiving is offered and the kids open their gifts from under the Christmas tree.

I often wonder, why is it that shepherds were the first to receive this heavenly announcement of the birth of The Son of God? Shepherds were regarded as lowly, yet the angel appeared to them and then concourses (crowds) of angels sang praises of the arrival and birth of the promised Messiah. “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born king.”

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

(Luke 2:8-14)

The angel perceived the shepherds’ fear when he appeared to them, telling them to “fear not.” The astonishing glory of God, which radiated from the unexpected heavenly messenger, had indeed struck fear in their hearts. But the news the angel had come to share was nothing to be afraid of. He had come to announce a miracle, to bring the ultimate good news, to tell them that the redemption of mankind literally had commenced.

The Only Begotten of the Father was beginning His mortal stay. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” These were indeed good tidings of great joy.

We each face moments in our lives when the great joy that the angel promised can seem unclear and distant. All of us are subject to the weaknesses and hardships of life: illness, failure, problems, disappointment, and, in the end, death. While many people are blessed to live in physical safety, others today do not. Many face great difficulty meeting the demands of life and the physical and emotional toll it can bring.

And yet despite life’s hardships, the message of the Lord to each of us is the same today as it was to the shepherds keeping watch two thousand years ago: “Fear not.”

Perhaps the angel’s command to fear not has more relevance to us today than it did in calming the shepherds’ fear that first Christmas night.

It reminds us that no earthly problem need be lasting, that none of us is beyond redemption.

The sweetest gift given at Christmas will always be the one our Saviour Himself gave us: His perfect peace. He said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Even in a world where peace seems far off, the Saviour’s gift of peace can live in our hearts regardless of our circumstances.

If we accept the Saviour’s invitation to follow Him, lasting fear is forever banished. Our future has been secured. These are the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” “Fear thou not,” the prophet Isaiah reminded us, “for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Because of the Saviour born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, there is hope - and so much more. There is redemption, release, victory, and triumph.

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.” No wonder a choir of angels suddenly appeared as a heavenly exclamation point to the angel’s announcement of the Saviour’s birth, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

No message could ever be more reassuring. No message was ever filled with more goodwill toward men.

God bless Christmas.

                John Mateara

                The Church of Jesus Christ           of Latter-Day Saints


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