Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. Come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem.
It is a classic Christmas carol and a wonderful song we sing every year. But is this the only group to whom the invitation to come and experience Jesus is given? To the faithful, to the joyful, and to the triumphant?
Now, I mean no disrespect to the beautiful song at all – to be certain, Christmas Day is a day of faith and joy and triumph. But my hunch is that for some of us worshiping in Graefenburg, KY on Christmas Eve in 2018, there might be a sense of our own lack of faith, or perhaps very little joy, and maybe we feel more defeated than we do triumphant. And so what shall we do with this invitation that beckons the faithful, joyful, and triumphant to come to Jesus?
Yesterday before Sunday School I was hanging out in the cafe and it was a beautiful morning of greeting one another and exchanging gifts and lots of laughter. I saw one of my favorite people and said, “Merry Christmas, how are you?” And at first she wanted to reply with a typical, “Merry Christmas, I’m doing great.” But she stopped herself and let me know that she wasn’t feeling all that joyful at the moment because of a conversation she had with a family member. And we talked for a bit and she went on to her class, no doubt thinking that she was betraying the spirit of the season which is joy and happiness and spreading Christmas cheer.
But tonight, just hours before Christmas Day, I want to read for you one verse that, I hope, will put the invitation to come to Jesus in perspective. The prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus testified to his arrival. And here is part of what he said:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah 9:2
You know, if it is the middle of a hot, summer day and the sun is shining down with its brilliant light, you might not even notice if I flip on the switch to a flashlight. But if you are searching for something that eludes you and you are covered in darkness, the illumination from a flashlight will be a great relief. You see, there is a reason why we make Christmas Eve services a candlelight service. It isn’t because it adds a touch of charm and beauty to the service, which it certainly does. But because we are reminding ourselves that Christmas Day is about the shining of a light into our lives filled with darkness. That Jesus is, in fact, the light of the world.
And that means that if today your world is filled with darkness. If you are struggling to find faith. If you don’t know where your joy went. And if your victory has been swallowed up in defeat. Then the invitation to come to Bethlehem is for you. For the great light of Jesus is most beautifully and powerfully seen when it shines in our messy, chaotic darkness. Jesus lived on earth, died on a cross, and rose from the dead to save you. To forgive you. And to change you, forever. And that means you can come to him or return to him right now.
Sam Allberrry is a pastor who earlier this year sent a message on Twitter that my wife forwarded to me. I loved it so much that I tucked it away to use as the closing to my comments to you tonight. He said,
“Oh come all ye faithless, joyless, and defeated. Come ye, Oh come ye to Bethlehem. Christmas is for the weary, for the messed-up, and for the broken. If your life isn’t instagrammable, Christmas is for you.”
Do you remember that friend of mine I told you about a moment ago? Who told me she had a difficult conversation with a family member and it was causing her not to have as much joy? She sent me an email this morning. I asked her permission to read part of it to you. The subject of the email was “Yesterday’s Joy” and she says:
“I wanted to say I was sorry for unloading my burden on you yesterday. In responding to your joyous greeting I could not lie. In sharing my burden your joy was spilled over to me and I was able to be in Bible study and worship with a lighter heart. After worship that joy was shared with others in Merry Christmas wishes, in hugs and ‘I love yous’. So even though I wanted to say I’m sorry I guess I’m not because Joy was shared in a way that it would not have been otherwise. And I believe by sharing my burden your joy was increased, if not then at least now as you know that that Joy was carried onto others.”
Bethlehem has never been a place of much comfort for those who fake it. But for the ones who come to Jesus in all their brokenness and sin and shame, the light truly has come.
And joy can come in the morning.