Luke 2 tells us that a multitude of the heavenly host suddenly joined the angel of the Lord who had appeared to the shepherds. I wonder what that was like – did they just appear out of nowhere in the sky, stars twinkling behind them?
However they got there, they started praising God immediately, a noise that must have filled the heavens and flowed down from the night sky over the sheep who probably just wanted to go back to sleep.
Later, after those same shepherds had gone to Bethlehem to see the promised baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger – it was true! – and were returning home, it was their turn to glorify and praise God.
I wonder if either angels or shepherds were constrained by what other people thought about them or if they just let the good news of great joy spill out with no regret or remorse (and possibly, no rhythm). I suspect the latter, because when you have just found out that the long-awaited Messiah has come, well, that’s the time to let loose.
How much of this joy do we have? How much do we let show?
I’ll go ahead and answer for you and me both – not enough, not nearly enough.
You know who we need to be like? We need to follow the example of my son’s middle school basketball team. They’re a young team, but they’re well-coached, so they have potential. I don’t know how they do it where you live, but in these small-school games we play, the coaches of both teams sometimes plan for a fifth quarter with a running clock to allow the kids who don’t get to play much a chance to actually get on the court.
These fifth quarters are filled with excitement and nervous energy and a lot of, um, creative basketball plays that are definitely not what the coach drew up. (To be fair, a lot of the regular game is like that too.)
But you know what warms my heart? When a kid scores who doesn’t normally get much playing time – the ball goes up, is it going in, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon …. yes! – the players on the bench explode in cheers for him. When the team creates a turnover, they go nuts. And if someone hits a three? Forget about it – the guys on the bench will lose their minds. They jump out of their seats, they raise their hands, they cheer and scream, they celebrate with each other.
They are together. They are a team. They rise and fall as one, and when something good happens to one, they all rejoice. They’re not thinking about how cool or uncool they look. They’re not looking around to see who’s watching. They’re not Instagramming every pose. They’re excited, and there’s still enough little kid in them to not care what others think.
That’s the kind of joy we need. So this Christmas, when you’re at church and the congregation’s voices are raised as one in praise, find the joy of the angels, the joy of the shepherds, the joy of the teammates who are celebrating the fantastic shot by their buddy. Let the rest fade away, and worship with joy.
P.S. (If you’re at church, maybe leave out the part where you start jumping up on the chairs and screaming.)