Good News of Great Joy

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018

Gospel Lesson: Luke 1:1-20

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Sometimes it seems like the world is full of nothing but bad news: the latest political shenanigans, the latest tsunami, the latest unintentional shooting, the latest fall of the stock market, the latest symptom of global warming, the latest statistics on world poverty and hunger, the latest war, the latest famine, the latest epidemic. In the 24-hour news cycle of newspapers, radio programs, websites, and television new casts, it seems that the secret to winning ratings and mindshare is to capture the world’s attention with the worst news possible. An old TV news adage goes: if it bleeds it leads.

But there is still good news in the world if you know where to look for it. It seldom promotes itself and it seldom comes from the halls of power or prestige, but it is there, and it is often in the most ordinary and unremarkable places.

Last Friday night, Chris and I drove to the airport at 11:00 pm to meet our daughter Rachel’s flight from Toronto, which was due in at 11:20. It is a regular flight between Toronto and RDU, and we have made that trip several times to pick her up. Usually at that time of night the airport is not terribly busy. There are a dozen or so folks waiting rather sleepy-eyed for the late night flight to arrive. But on this night the airport was crowded with folks looking expectantly and excitedly down the arrivals gate for their loved ones. We saw men and women, children and youth, old people, people waiting alone, people waiting with family members, people waiting with service dogs. And as each wave of travelers disembarked and came up the escalators and through the arrivals gate, they were greeted with balloons and signs and new babies and hugs and kisses and smiles and squeals of delight.

Just a few minutes before we saw Rachel coming up the gate, who should appear but Santa Clause! He was wearing a fuzzy, fur-trimmed Santa suit complete with hat and beard and white ringlets and all. Only the suit was not red, it was camouflage. Around his neck he wore a beautiful, simple silver cross. As he passed by me I couldn’t help myself! I smiled and waved and said, “Hey Santa!” He smiled and waved back, and it made me wonder where was he headed? Who was he was going to see? Was he headed to Fort Bragg? Maybe the VA hospital in Durham? And what kind of bad news had the troops he was going to visit seen lately? And how long had it been since they remembered that there is still joy and hope and good news in the world? As I watched that Santa with his camouflage suit and his silver cross, I began to think about the toll that the war of the past 17 years has taken on the lives of men and women in service. How the suicide rate among veterans is substantially higher than among non-Veterans. Next to seeing our daughter, that camouflaged Santa was the best thing I saw all night. If anyone was bringing good news of great joy that night, it was that Santa on his mission to remind men and women who had suffered the violence and despair of war that there is still good news in this world. That they are loved and sustained and that life and wholeness are far more powerful than the death and destruction of war.

When the angels came to visit the shepherds in that field near Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, they did not bring the ordinary kind of good news that is broadcast one day and forgotten the next. They brought a deep, cosmic good news: the kind that lets you know that you are not forgotten, but are loved and sustained. If anyone needed that kind of good news, it was those lonely shepherds. If anyone still needs that kind of good news, it is those soldiers on that base or in that hospital.

The good news of God’s salvation breaks into the most unlikely places and in the most unlikely ways. Sometimes it is a handful of balloons that says welcome home. Sometimes it is a hot meal on a cold morning. Sometimes it is the smile of an old friend. Sometimes it is a camouflaged Santa that says you are not forgotten. One time it was a baby boy in a rough stable. And that simple silver cross around the neck of Santa was all I needed to see to know that that baby boy is still at work bringing good news of great joy to men and women, to children and youth, and to shepherds and soldiers everywhere. Amen.