8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” – Luk 2:8-14 NASB
In the 2013 movie “Girl on a Train”, Filmmaker Danny Hart interviews a holocaust survivor who made it to New York City. In the interview, the survivor begins to talk about his first visit to Coney Island. He explains that the language wasn’t the thing that made him feel the most alien. Rather it was that people were so happy – just for cotton candy and a few silly rides. This happiness was completely alien to him – imagine what course his life had taken to arrive at Coney Island! To emerge from the hell and horror of surviving the holocaust to land at an amusement park!
You would think he would tell this story with a sense of judgement, that these people’s happiness was an affront to the injustices that he had suffered. Yet he tells the story of his visit to Coney Island with a sense of reverence and wonder. He was an alien in a better world – a world he wanted to be a part of. Truly it is not our suffering and failure that in the end define us. These things are merely a platform for wonder and a great depth of gratitude for the joys that await us.
I think when we hear of Good News of Great Joy, we do not know what we do not know. We live in the midst of such struggles, such failures, such abridged pleasures, that we have no idea what great joy is. And this great joy is what has come into the world, and in the midst of our sins and troubles and failures and injuries, we can’t really face Christmas. We remember the magic of Christmas when we were children, but it has all become a chore and a reminder of what our lives have “really” become, and we can’t face the threat of the mundanity and failure and suffering. We fear that in the scope of eternity, the good news of great joy will turn to hopelessness and loneliness and loss and failure just like Christmas has lost its childlike joy. We do not understand that compared to heaven, we are surviving a holocaust and heaven has such joys that we are aliens to its freedom and pleasures. Heaven is not the end of our earthly pleasures. It is the end of our grasping at shadows of pleasure, and our entrance into real joy as real persons at last.
We do not understand, but I am proclaiming to you now, that a great Christmas Morning of the soul is at hand, and a great and surprising joy has come to you now. You are a child and Christmas morning has come upon you. A Great Gift has been given to you, carefully wrapped in mystery and revealed to you at the exact right time: the costly and sacrificial love of God Himself, the maker of heaven and earth, for YOU.
But the greatest thing is this: you will be awakened to understand these great joys. The scales will be lifted from your eyes. In the twinkling of an eye you will be changed, yet you will still be yourself. You will finally be granted the great humility of genuine gratitude. The simplest pleasures will give you true joy.