Audio Worship 12/24/2023 "Advent Joy" Luke 2.1-20

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1618

December 24, 2023 - Advent 4

Luke 2.1-20             Click here for audio worship

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“Advent Joy”


In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (ESV)


  • Christmas Joy


There are many reasons for joy at Christmas. We celebrate the birth of Christ. We celebrate the gifts God has given us in family, friends, church, and all the wonders of life. We also need to pray for those who might struggle through Christmas due to loss or other issues that diminish the joy of Christmas. And God can certainly restore our joy when it is lost. God can rebuild rejoicing at the good news of Christ’s birth even when we cannot see that hope for the future. There is Christmas joy for us in good times and bad. There is Christmas joy because the story of Jesus’ birth is the beginning of the good news for the church and for the world.

Two particular things might help us experience joy. These two things are featured in the last two verses of the Christmas story from Luke. One, Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Two, the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God. Treasure and praise. These simple acts of faith can ignite joy in our hearts because what we treasure is the truth and the one whom we praise is the truth!



  • Good News of Great Joy


Luke 2:19 records the joy of treasuring and pondering the story. Mary treasures the story in her heart. The way the narrative is presented shows that she treasured the events relayed by the shepherds, but I trust she treasured everything that had happened from the time the angel Gabriel showed up to tell her she would be with child from the Holy Spirit. How could she not treasure that news?!

Two statements stand out that Mary would have treasured in her heart. The first is about the birth itself; in some ways it sounds so easy, 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger...” We make it appear so sweet and easy in our manger scenes with cows and goats and wise men peering at the cradle with some straw stuffed around the edges. I imagine the real scene was harsh. Dirty, smelly, the worst place one might imagine giving birth to her firstborn. None-the-less, it is the birth of the Savior. It is the beginning of something that would change the world from that day forward. What is so fascinating about it is the simplicity – a story marked by simple words: birth, cloth, manger. In one sense it is the perfect way for God to send His Son. Under the radar, out of the spotlight, a humble beginning.

The second statement is the reason for the birth place and it is almost presented as an afterthought: “because there was no place for them in the inn.” James Boice writes about a Bible teacher he saw on a Christmas program years ago who was on a panel discussion about Christmas. Part of his argument was that the world back then was so busy with its affairs that very few even noticed this birth of the Messiah and it is pretty much the same today. He said, “Men and women express sentimental thoughts about the infant Jesus as they go about their own affairs and pleasures at Christmastime. But few pay attention to the real Christ, and they do not make room for Him in their lives.”1 That seems a very powerful connection to the lack of room in the inn and the lack of room people give Jesus in their lives. We might not think much about Christmas being a time of reflection for our relationship with Jesus, but what if we handled Christmas more like Mary did and treasure these things in our hearts.


Luke 2:20 reveals the second response to the Christmas miracle. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. What they had heard, seen, and received was the good news of the birth and seeing the child in the manger.

The shepherds celebrated the birth of Jesus in at least four ways:

First, they received the message. When the shepherds heard the word from the angels that Messiah has been born, they believed it at least enough to go check it out. They received the message. Joy comes in receiving the message of Christ’s birth. We can celebrate Christmas by being receptive to the Word of God.


Second, they responded to the message. Message received and acted upon. They respond by going to the stable to find the promised child. They could have just said, “oh, a baby, good.” But they set out to find him, to see what God had done, to witness the good news. Our celebration continues in response to the news received. Any of us can hear news, but that news remains mere information unless we act on it, unless we are moved to new life. The good news received is that Jesus Christ is born; He is the Messiah. But if we do not receive that message and respond to it by receiving Christ into our lives, it is mere information. We find great joy in Christmas by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.


Third, they told everybody what they heard and saw. They became witnesses. We too can witness to Jesus Christ, his birth, life, death, and resurrection. The shepherds only had the beginning of the story, the birth of the Messiah. We have the whole story to tell. We have the stories of the gospels and the church and our lives to tell others the good news that Jesus lives. We have a story of joy to tell, telling everyone what we have seen and heard about the Christ.


Fourth, the shepherds glorified and praised God for what they had heard and seen and been told. They worshiped. They sang, praised, and gave God glory for what had been revealed to them. To glorify God is to tell of God’s worth, for He is worthy to be praised. We do that by words in doxology – praising God for what God has done. We do that through song, prayer, and telling of the wonders God has done. We know joy in praising and glorifying God.


  • The Joy of the Story


We can also respond to Christmas with the same responses of Mary and the shepherds, to treasure the story and to praise God. That is our joy today and tomorrow and everyday we are pondering and glorifying the good news of Christ. It is not just about Christmas day, but it is a daily walk in the story of Christ’s Advent into the world through His birth. It is the news that Mary treasured for the rest of her life and the shepherds told for the rest of theirs. It is the news that affects how we live like Jesus.

5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2.5-11).

Being born in the likeness of men...and that birth in a humble manner. His life lived in a humble manner, He humbled Himself. Perhaps the greatest joy we can know is living in this same humble manner, humbled by the good news that God gave His only Son for the sake of our eternal life, humbled by the treasure of the story in our hearts, and humbled in worship through praise and glory to God.


  • The Joy the World Needs


These two responses are also directed to the world. Treasure the truth in pondering the story and giving glory through our praise. We treasure the story in order to keep it before the world. We tell it, we practice it, we decorate because of it, we celebrate, we worship, all because we are grateful to God, but also as a witness to the world that there is good news of great joy. The message, the story, the narrative, the Word is so desperately needed in the world and to the world. It always has been desperately needed in the world since it was first foretold even back in the Old Testament. Christmas is simple, humble, and filled with joy, good news of great joy. The child is born, the angel announces the news, and the shepherds come to see. This infant changes them all, even at his birth. This infant changes us, even at his birth. Let us rejoice in the news by treasuring the story and by glorifying and praising God. Merry Christmas! Amen.



1 Boice, James, The Christ of Christmas, 1983, p. 63.