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.”
Sometimes joy comes where we least expect it. This is shown best in the birth story we find in Luke’s Gospel. No one would expect shepherds to be the witnesses, especially “night shift” shepherds. Most people would expect God to choose someone from among the “good people”: a priest, Pharisee, or even someone in the royal court; not smelly shepherds! But, that’s what God does.
In bringing joy to the world, God even goes one step farther. He doesn’t come in glory as a son of a prince, a wealthy person, or a great religious leader. No, God comes as a child born to an unwed girl, pregnant before she ought to be, engaged to a young carpenter. The reason why they are in a stable isn’t just because there’s “no room” for them in the inn (the Greek word that we translate here as “inn” is the same word that we find later in Luke, translated as the “upper room” in the Last Supper—the word for guest room) it is also that there’s no “place” for them. Joseph is returning to his hometown, but, none of the relatives will host him because Mary and Joseph are unclean. Mary is pregnant out of wedlock. Thus, the birth of God takes place in a stable. God is laid in a feeding trough while his mother and earthly father rest among the stabled animals.
This is not a place where we expect to find joy, but it is the very place which the Joy of the World is found by the shepherds, and by us. Joy doesn’t always reside in the place of happiness. Joy resided wherever we are in the presence of God. Because of the child laid in a manger, true joy is with us always. Even in our darkest and most difficult times God’s presence, God’s joy, is with us. Amen.