Good Tidings of Great Joy

For so many of us, Christmas has become an exercise in tradition.  I love tradition, sometimes too much.  Tradition is familiar and safe, something that can be depended on.  While tradition is a comfort, especially in today’s world, sometimes tradition can hold us back.

Often, traditions seem to manifest at Christmastime.  One popular tradition is reading the story of Christmas as told by Matthew:

 “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about:  his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorcer her quietly.

 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’

 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel {which means ‘God with us’}.

 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son.  And he gave him the name Jesus.

 –Matthew 1:18—25

The Book of Luke also has a lovely account of Christ’s birth:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  {This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.}  And everyone went to their own town to register. 

 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. 

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  you will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.’

 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’

 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seem him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 Luke 2:1—20

 I’m willing to bet that a large majority of you skipped over the scripture written above.  Don’t feel guilty—if you’re a lifelong churchgoer, you’ve probably heard those particular passages more times than you can count.  It’s like watching a movie you’ve seen a million times:  you don’t necessarily have to pay attention to it as long as it’s providing you with the background noise that you desire.

 Recently, I read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson to my class.  If you haven’t read it, order it as quickly as possible and prepare yourself for a heartwarming chuckle.  The story features the Herdman children—kids so bad that they drink the communion grape juice and steal money from the church collection plate.  Early on in the story, it is discovered that the Herdman children have no knowledge of the Christmas story.  Hearing their reactions to the passages above brought me to tears.

If you think about it, the Christmas story isn’t just about a Savior being born.  It’s about a mom & dad who are in a strange land without a place to sleep, a friend to turn to, or a family to depend on.  It’s about two very new parents who were scared to death with the responsibility they’d been handed.  It’s about a father raising a heavenly Son as his own.  It’s about a mother who had to bear the brunt of a surprise pregnancy and the gossip that ensued.  It’s about the start of a new family in a very frightening time.

For the lifelong churchgoer, or even the average churchgoer, these sentiments are lost because of the repetition of the story.  The tradition of reading these scripture passages is rote—almost meaningless.  I realized this in front of a classroom of eleven high school students and to put it delicately, I lost it.

Our entire purpose as Christians on earth is to be sheep among wolves.  We’re meant to spread the good news, just as the shepherds did.  When was the last time you found joy in the Christmas story?  When was the last time that reading those precious scriptures was more than just a tradition?

Like Mary, I pondered these thoughts in my heart.  Sunday was the third week of the Advent season and again, I was struck by how meaningless the good news had become when we began to sing traditional Christmas hymns during the worship portion of our service.  I knew the hymns like the back of my hand—the tradition of singing them had taken away the joy in the lyrics.  Tears streamed down my cheeks as I experienced a renewed understanding of the message behind the choruses.

After my traditional {there’s that word again} Sunday nap, I curled beneath my brown-ticked flannel sheets and researched some of my favorite Christmas hymns, forcing myself to focus on the message behind the lyrics.  The joy and detail in each song is exquisite and if you can focus on in the intention instead of the tradition, the lyrics have the ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Here are a few excerpts of my favorite traditional hymns:


3 tma-chalkboard


My prayer for you, dear reader, during this holiday season is that you are reminded once again of the joy and miraculous wonder of the Christmas story.

Happy Holidays,



One thought on “Good Tidings of Great Joy

  1. Pingback: Advent | Callicutt

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