News of Great Joy
Advent candles – symbolise light shining in darkness. So… I’d like you to close your eyes for a few moments and imagine that it is dark. Very dark. So dark that, if you were to wave your hand in front of your face, you wouldn’t be able to see it. And while you’re imagining that darkness, I’m going to tell you just a very small part of the story of The Magician’s Nephew (C S Lewis).
In this part of the story, the children have found themselves in a very dark place… as black as night or even blacker, because there were no stars, not even one. In fact, there didn’t seem to be anything except the ground… and the dark… and the cold… and the children waiting…
Then, in the darkness, something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and it wasn’t like the singing we have in church. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, without doubt, the most beautiful sound the children had ever heard. It was so beautiful, they could hardly bear it.
Then two wonders happened at the same moment. The first was that the voice was joined by other voices; cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. A thousand, thousand points of light leaped out. If you had been there, you would have been certain that it was the stars themselves that were singing and that it was the first voice that had made them appear and made them sing.
After singing loudly, the voices in the sky began to get fainter. And now something else was happening. Far away and down near the horizon, the sky began to turn grey. You could see shapes of hills standing up against it. The sky changed from grey to white, from white to pink and from pink to gold. And all the time the Voice went on singing. The voice rose and rose, till the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound, the sun arose. And as its beams shot across the land, the travellers could see for the first time what kind of land they were in. The land was of many colours, fresh and vivid. They made you feel excited, until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else…
I wonder how that story makes you feel? Would you have liked to have been there? Would you have liked to have met the Singer? What do you imagine that the Singer would be like?
I put it to you that, for the people of Israel, waiting for the coming of Jesus would have been very much like that long wait in the dark. They were not in a good place. They had turned away from God. They had been defeated and invaded by a succession of foreign powers. They had lost their land. They were living under oppression. They were in every sense a broken people – people the Bible describes as living in thick darkness. Longing for freedom, but trapped under foreign overlords who frequently treated them with contempt. Longing for hope and light, but seeing none.
Then, out of the darkness comes the beginning of hope… the voices of prophets like Isaiah calling in the darkness. Change is coming!
Then more waiting…
Then the sound of angels singing in the night: “A new king has been born! Change is coming!”
Then more waiting…
Then, finally, Jesus himself:
The Spirit of God is on me,
He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…
The time had come. The right time. The time God chose. Now the people wouldn’t only hear the song, they would meet the Singer!
And that’s where it started to get interesting… Because it turns out not everyone wanted to meet the Singer. They discovered that the song they thought they’d heard him sing wasn’t his song at all. And the song he sang hurt their ears.
Good news for the poor… meant, perhaps, less good news for the rich. Healing for the broken-hearted… meant, perhaps, more accountability for those who had done the breaking. Freedom for the oppressed… meant, perhaps, less freedom for the oppressor. The rich and powerful would no longer be able to do as they pleased.
So was this really joyful, good news for all peoples, as the angel had said? Romans as well as Jews? Rich as well as poor? Well, yes, I think it was.
Imagine, now, a world in which no-one goes hungry. Imagine a world in which no-one inflicts pain on anyone else. Where there is no war. Where there are no oppressed people because there are no oppressors. Imagine a world where no-one treats you differently just because you are black, or poor, or disabled, or you come from the “wrong” sort of family or were born in the “wrong” place…
Now think about it some more. As I understand it, there is more than enough food produced worldwide each year to feed everyone, if we shared it all out evenly. That, in itself, would be a modern-day miracle – the feeding of the six billion!
That’s the kind of world God was seeing and wanting. A world where everyone lives together in peace and where each takes care of the other. Such a world would, indeed, be good news for the poor! It would bring freedom to the oppressed and healing to the broken-hearted. But would also be good news for the rich and powerful – though they may find that harder to see. It would be good news because there would no longer be people who hated you. It would be good news because you’d no longer have to worry about gathering and protecting your wealth because you would know that you would always have enough. It would be good news because, instead of having to fight for recognition, you would already have it – both as a precious and loved child of God and as a valued friend and neighbour of those around you.
That’s the kind of world God was seeing and wanting… and which he still wants. And it’s the kind of world Jesus came to bring about. His was not simply a song of forgiveness. It was a song of powerful transformation. In him, God and humanity were united as one. He took on our human nature and thus blessed it and purified it, so that we, too, might live as he did. On the cross, he “condemned sin” – as Paul wrote. He put it to death once and for all. Which means we don’t have to live with it. We have been given the power to “be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect.”
If we are willing, if we are prepared to live our lives to God’s glory and not our own, if we are truly open to the work of the Holy Spirit within us… then we are no longer “slaves to sin”. Instead, amazing things can happen! We can become agents of transformation in the world around us – spreading love and hope and joy instead of pain.
So we come to the end of that passage from Isaiah, where he speaks of a crown of beauty instead of ashes, oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of despair. It’s a message to a people crying out to God in their darkness and despair. The ashes and the mourning suggest repentance – a people willing to turn back to God. The despair suggests they have lost all hope that God will answer them.
But their willingness is enough. God does answer. He answers with the promise of a crown, anointing with oil and new clothes. There is so much imagery here! Anointing with oil is about healing, but it’s also about kingship. It’s about being lifted up to the highest place. It’s about being part of God’s family – precious and loved. It’s about being given a new start – the opportunity to be part of what God is doing in the world and to share in the joy that brings.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Good news of great joy. That was Isaiah’s song. That was the angels’ song. It was the song of the Singer. So let’s not turn away. Let’s open our ears to hear it. And let’s join in and make it our own song.