A year ago, I remember Denise Crook leading our worship with the words ‘Joy, unspeakable joy’.
She had just heard that John Williams had died, and I wondered if she was going to be able to get through the song.
She did. As we look forward to celebrating Christmas, when we remember Jesus’ coming into the world, we are not seeking false merriment, but true joy. Jesus was not born in a palace, to all the comforts of the world. Instead, he was born in a stable, and his cradle was an animal trough.
We are in a world that is full of trouble and heartache. As we mourn the recent loss of Isaac D’Amon and accompany his family and friends in grief – how can we find any joy in the world – or this Christmas?
From the moment Mary said yes to God, she knew trouble. Joseph wondered about breaking their betrothal. She was probably under threat of stoning, so travelled to Elizabeth to go aside. Then she had to journey, 9 months’ pregnant, to Bethlehem. There is no mention of a donkey in the Bible, so she may have had to walk.
In Bethlehem, it seems that no-one will welcome them. She gives birth in unsanitary conditions, with little support, surrounded by animals.
So, where’s the joy?
At that moment, the moment of Jesus’ birth, God came to dwell among us. He came into our mess, into our trouble. He laughed with us, and he cried with us. He made himself vulnerable and weak, and he humbled himself and became obedient even to death on a cross.
Our unspeakable joy is this – Jesus, our Emmanuel, is God with us. His promise to us is that he will never leave us nor forsake us, no matter what happens to us, whatever the world or life may bring. With the multitudes of angels we can rejoice at good news of great joy that a Saviour has been born to us – and this is the sign: a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”