First the Kingdom, part 29, Joy to the World!
…for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Every year in December the story is told in many parts of the world about the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem 2 thousand years ago. This story has been identified with many inspirational songs, stories and traditions in both secular and religious settings. I believe it draws on some of the deepest longings in our hearts and touches us on more levels than we realize.
Just as in the days of Joseph and Mary, the world goes on around us as always, and yet there are those who will take the time out to reflect on the promise of this Child who would be known as the Savior of the world. For at least a few weeks out of the year people begin to believe in kindness and mercy again. Gifts are sent to underpriviledged children and adults and the grace of Christ can be seen in ordinary human beings.
Also, just as in the days of Joseph and Mary, the message of hope in this story faces opposion. While the rulers in Jerusalem tried to put the Christ child to death, forces today are at work to divert our attention to the hatred and violence that continues to this day. In 1863 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote this in his poem, “Christmas Bells,”
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Sometimes we feel like Longfellow and we must fight to resist despair. For me, the best defense against such despair is the Word of God. I am learning to never take for granted the Christmas Story simply because it is told every year out of tradition. I need to hear it again and again! I need to remember the powerful promise that has gripped humanity since it was first given!
Most of us have heard about the shepherds who were nearby when Jesus was born, and the angel said unto them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people!” (Luke 2:10).
Anyone who has lived as long as some of us have realized that the “all people” to whom this good news was given must include more than a few undeserving folks. If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that we are among those undeserving ones. But does that change the message? Jesus would later say that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance! This is the Good News, that God cares about us all!
The older translations have left us with this wonderful and powerful statement after the shepherds were told about the child:
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, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13-14 KJV)
By the end of the poem Longfellow re-affirmed his hope to see peace on earth, good will to men. I believe if we take these verses to heart, along will all of the other passages relating to the Gospel of the Kingdom, we can stand stronger in our faith, and can live in His Joy today!
Growing up in my early years I heard and sang songs in church about the joy of living in Christ. And yet it wasn’t until I was about 21 years old that I fully understood and experienced this joy. For some time I had been struggling to make a living and take care of my family when my wife left me and my son and moved to another state. It was this crisis that brought me to a level of humility and sorrow for my sins and a level of submission to Christ that I had not known before.
The morning after crying out to God for forgiveness was like the first day of a new life! Every thing seemed brand new to me. I felt a new kind of joy that churned up from deep within and burst forth almost uncontrollably. Most people I talked to could not understand me, but when I remembered the believers at my mom’s church, I was thrilled to find after all that they knew this very same joy!
With all my heart I believe that this joy is for everyone. I cannot give specific instructions on how to receive it for yourself. I can only bear witness that it is real and hope you will believe. I can tell what happened to me and show in the Bible where others were also lifted up by Christ in the Holy Spirit! I can also continue to show from the Scripture how this is what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. It is not always easy. In fact there are times when it is most difficult. Yet, there can be and should be a deep abiding joy that is not dependent upon circumstances. That joy comes from knowing Christ but also from knowing what He is doing and will do in this earth as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!