good news of great joy

"According to Luke" by Rhonda Chase
Preaching is a challenge on Christmas Eve. At University Hill Congregation we have one great Christmas Eve celebration full of carols and candles and children. This year the sermon is in three parts, with each coming as a response to the arrival of the characters in our nativity scene. We invite the children to dress as angels or shepherds in order to join in telling the story. You can imagine the excited entry of angels and shepherds in the midst of the sermon that follows. By the way, the magi will arrive at our nativity scene just after the twelve days of Christmas, on Epiphany.

- Luke 2:1-20

Scene one - Mary, Joseph & the Christ-child

“Good news of great joy.” It is the reason that we are together here on the eve of Christmas. Here because there is “good news of great joy for all the people.” It is good news for the human spirit. It is spiritual good news. It is, in other words, inspiring. Yet notice, biblical spirituality is always embodied spirituality. In the Bible the spiritual is inevitably material. Christian theology is about matter, about what matters. Did you hear it? Hear it in the first few verses, hear it in the materiality of people and places and things that matter: Emperor Augustus, all the world, a decree, registration, their own towns, Quirinius, Syria, Joseph, Nazareth, Galilee, Judea, Bethlehem, the house and family of David, Mary, engaged, expecting, time to deliver, inn, no place, gave birth, first-born son, bands of cloth, manger.  This is not a story about spiritual truths. Nor is it a story about universal values. It is the astounding news that God is working out humankind’s redemption incognito - below our spiritual radar - in the details and confusion and stresses of a very material world. How extraordinary. God entering the world and redeeming the nations through an obscure Jewish birth in occupied territory. Do you see? If then, also now. If there, also here. If them, also us.

Scene two - an angel of the Lord & a multitude of the heavenly host

“Good news of great joy.” It comes in the middle of the night. It is terrifying, awe-inspiring, overwhelming. An angel of the Lord. A messenger from God. The glory of the Lord all around. The energy of God, like radiation transforming the night. It is the unexpected entry of God into what seems a god-forsaken world, a god-forsaken place, god-forsaken lives. What news does this holy messenger bring? More god-forsakenness? But, no. Can it be? Yes. Yes, it is good news. Gospel. It is news that unleashes unbridled joy: dancing, singing, eating, giving, rejoicing. No longer forsaken, forgotten, forlorn. Now remembered, redeemed, reconciled. “To you is born a Saviour, who is the Messiah - Christ - the Lord.” This is new. It is news. The message comes unexpectedly. It is the great surprise. The angel comes to those who long to be saved ... saved from misery and despair, from bitterness and grief, from shame and sadness ... saved into lives worth living again ... kingdom of heaven lives lived here, now in the material world. No wonder the heavenly host sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” They sing “Glory to God in the highest” because God must surely need more glory, more energy, more power than we can possibly imagine in order to fulfill the saving mission announced by the angel of the Lord on that dark night, on this dark night.

Scene three - shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night

“Good news of great joy.” The message is delivered first to shepherds. Not to kings. Not to priests. Not to scholars. To shepherds. King David is a shepherd boy who becomes the shepherd of his people. It means he is the pastor - the shepherd - of Israel. Now a new shepherd is born. The good shepherd who leads to still waters and green pastures. The good shepherd who knows the path through the cruciform valley of the shadow of heart ache, of suffering, of death. The good shepherd who sets an eastered table before us, a table where reconciliation is the agenda, where even enemies are loved, where the cup of blessing overflows, where goodness and mercy are not strangers but find a home. Jesus the Christ is the shepherd of shepherds, the leader of leaders, the servant of servants. He is the way, the truth and the life. The shepherds are the first to be told, the first to search for him and to find him and they are the first to make known what has been told them about Mary’s boy child. They are the first, but not the last. We, too, have heard the news and come seeking the good shepherd who can be trusted with the future: with our days, with our gifts, with our troubles, with what matters. The Lord in the manger is our shepherd. We shall not want. The Lord on the cross is our shepherd. We shall not want. The Lord beyond the tomb is our shepherd. We shall not want. It means, we don’t need anything else. Hallelujah! We are not the first, and we will not be the last, to return to our flock - to our life’s work -“glorifying and praising God for all <we> have heard and seen.” Good news of great joy, indeed.



  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Virginia. We send our Christmas greetings to you as well.

  2. Thanks for this, Ed - beautiful and poetic (perhaps the best way to give a Christmas Eve homily). A gift. Merry Christmas!