December 17, 2017
Advent 2017 – A Journey of Joy
Advent 2017 – A Journey of Joy
Today is the third Sunday of Advent, and we are glad you’re here journeying with us through this season. If you haven’t been with us the past couple of weeks, we have been walking through the season of Advent. It’s a season of preparation and expectation and purposeful focus as we move toward the celebration of Christmas and of Christ’s arrival.
Our guiding symbol through the season is the star. Just as that Star of Bethlehem drew the wise men toward the Savior thousands of years ago, the star guides our focus on a spiritual journey of hope, love, joy, and peace that all connect us to the Morning Star, the light of the world, Jesus.
As we continue to follow the star toward Jesus, it leads us today to focus on a journey of joy. Joy can be the fuel that brightens our journey, and it is a fascinating concept. Joy is often misunderstood. It is often confused with happiness. And it regularly shows up in situations where it may be least expected. Speaking of which . . .
Have you ever noticed that just about every time an angel shows up in Scripture, the first words out of the angel’s mouth are “Do not be afraid”? The phrase is so common in the Bible, you might think it was a heavenly language for hello. In the Christmas story, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds all heard that message.
Those shepherds give us a particularly good picture of the experience. These were no cowardly men. They were a rugged lot used to living outdoors in wild areas. They fought off predators to protect their sheep and would have been prepared to ward off any bandits or thieves if necessary. And in the biblical account, they had strength in numbers that night out on a dark hillside watching their sheep. But when that angel appeared in the night sky, they went weak at the knees with fear.
Here’s how Luke described the scene: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:9–12).
The angel had good news for these guys—news that would “cause great joy for all the people.” The angel and his group came in peace with the world’s greatest birth announcement, but first he had to help the shepherds get over their fear. And then after he had told them the good news, suddenly the whole sky was filled with angels. They erupted with joy. Luke continued: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13–14).
This is our starting point as we follow the star today on a journey of joy. And as we do, I want us to walk through four aspects of joy: first, that joy and pain co-exist; second, that joy comes from the presence of God; Third, joy leads us to worship and finally, that Joy is meant to be spread.
1. Joy and Pain
As I said earlier Joy and Happiness are often confused and misunderstood. When we think of this time of year the idea of Joy is naturally tied to it but the problem is most of us don’t really know how to define if we are happy or joyful. Joy is a by product or fruit of the Spirit. Gal 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” in fact I would contend that true joy is only available to believers.
Don Campbell (professor and writer at DTS) wote that Joy is “a deep and abiding inner rejoicing which was promised to those who abide in Christ. It does not depend on circumstances because it rests in God’s sovereign control of all things.”
Have you ever known someone who was joyful? Some one who no matter what happened in their life they just seemed to walk through it with some level of calm and contentment. Even through some of the most difficult painful times they just still found the good in things and had a stableness about them. Even though many aspects of their life don’t change, even though they still have to cope with hardships and pain, they are filled with joy.
I have to admit, I long to be one of those people. I try very hard to be that person but often I am not. In fact if you ask my family they would tell you I rarely achieve that.
It’s a strange thing about joy—it seems the natural reaction for most of us is to think joy could only come when pain is removed. But the truth is, in our fallen world, joy and pain exist side by side. In fact, there is really no way to separate them. Our lives are a constant balance of joy and pain as we walk through the experiences of life. In fact, it is often the pain or struggle that magnifies the power of joy. And it’s here in this dichotomy that the message of the angel is for us as well: Do not be afraid!
What circumstances in your life are causing you fear? What do you feel afraid of? Where is the pain of life seeming to overshadow the presence of joy? What feels like it is spinning out of control?
Those places are exactly where the words of the angel can penetrate the most deeply and powerfully. This message is for you: Do not be afraid. You don’t have to fear. There is good news of great joy. And it is for you!
In the Bible book that bears his name, James takes this concept a step further when he said we are to consider the trials we face as pure joy: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4).
Really, facing trials is pure joy? This sounds totally contradictory. But it isn’t a suggestion that you fake it and slap a smile on the deep pain of life. It’s an encouragement that even in the midst of hardship there is a longer, broader view, a perspective that shows us that our trials can lead us to grow and become mature in our faith. And while growth isn’t easy, it can be filled with joy.
As we walk in relationship with God, we can grow to experience a sense of joy that comes from understanding there is more than the pain we’re facing. There is a deeper reality at work. There is an unseen source of life flowing within us that can nourish and refresh and cleanse and renew us, much like that clean water in a place of hardship, sickness, and death.
What exactly does this joy look and feel like in our daily lives and reality? We’re getting there.
2. Joy comes from the presence of God.
Lets go back to that quote from Don Campbell “a deep and abiding inner rejoicing which was promised to those who abide in Christ (Jn 15:11). It does not depend on circumstances because it rests in God’s sovereign control of all things.”
Jn 15 is a familiar passage talks about how says 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Notice that it is not our Joy, it is His joy.
Once again like Hope and Love that we have already talked about this is not something we contrive or build up. It is a work of God on our behalf when we abide in Him. One of my favorite names used for Jesus at Christmas time is the word Emmanuel. Emmanuel means God with us. Notice what the Shepherds did when this they God this news? They went to where Jesus could be found. This is important to us today!
When it is dark, When things look bleak. When we need a light to guide our path where do we find Jesus? In the word! How do we abide In Him? We spend time with Him in prayer. Here is a little secret… If you are lacking Joy in your life here is how to fix that.
- repent, 2. do what he asks of you, and 3. Abide in His love.
3. Joy and Worship
So what is our response to joy? What do we do when joy interrupts our everyday lives and sets up camp alongside the mundane and the painful? How do we live in the balance of joy and pain until Jesus comes again? How do we foster and experience this joy that is offered to us?
Sometimes it’s easy to embrace joy. Sometimes our struggles and hurts are so overwhelming that we are trapped and bound by our fear. Joy can feel so far away, so distant, maybe impossible.
The Bible shows us that the appropriate response to joy is always worship. I would suggest that worship can also jump-start joy as we fix our eyes on God and His greater reality rather than on immediate problems or the fears we are facing in the moment.
In the Christmas story, the angel announced the good news of great joy, and then the entire host praised God. The shepherds immediately went to see the baby Jesus, worshiped Him, and then left telling everyone they met about what they saw.
Matthew told us the wise men also responded to joy with worship: “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:10–11).
Think about all that for a minute. What might it have looked like? Shepherds breaking into song? Wise, exotically dressed sages kneeling and bowing or praying aloud? As they let God’s message of joy penetrate and sweep away their fear, they were drawn joyously toward God Himself. It drew them in and lifted them up into God’s life-giving flow of joy.
We can experience the same this Advent season as we journey toward the birth of Christ and live in the truth that the good news of His arrival is the salvation He brings. Peter told us our walk of faith in Jesus brings us a sense of joy: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9).
3. Joy is meant to be spread
Once you experience true Joy it is infectious. Joy is not meant to be a lone ranger thing. It is good news of great joy is for all people. Life-giving joy is meant to bubble over and touch others. It can’t help itself. Everyone has the chance to embark on a journey of joy because Jesus came to save us all.
In fact, the coming of Jesus and the promise of His second coming are the source of joy to all of creation. Jesus came to set things right and redeem the entire world from sin and death. The good news isn’t just for all shepherds or all Americans or all Christians. The good news is for the world—everyone. Joy is uncontained and uncontainable by borders or governments or nationalities or races.
The psalmist conveyed such resonating joy in Psalm 96: “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes” (Psalm 96:11–13).
Fear and pain isolate us, but joy brings connection. If we go back and look at Jn 15 we see in Vs 11 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I remember growing up in Sunday School and learning a little song based on this.
One of the reasons I believe more people do not share the Good News with others around themselves is that they truly don’t have joy. They have stopped abiding in His love and they have forgotten how present He is. How about you? How many invites have you given out? How many people have you said “come meet Jesus?” We love because he first loved us. We invite because He invited us into His presence.
You may be sitting here today thinking, “That’s all great, but I’m not experiencing any joy in my life.” That is okay. I get it: The brokenness of our fallen world stands at odds with Christ’s joy, and in the life on earth, we straddle the tension of our physical and spiritual realities. And this season that is about good news and great joy that leads to connection and worship can also be a very difficult and lonely time for many of us. So what can you do when you find yourself there? I’d encourage us all to step into the journey in four ways.
First, take the time to connect with others who have His Joy in their hearts. Joy can be contagious. And just like the angels were messengers who sparked joy in the various humans, a friend or loved one—or even a complete stranger—can be the spark or bringer of joy. That person’s experience and sense of joy can rub off on us. Instead of letting your own situation or fear or pain isolate you, allow yourself to step into and connect with the joy of others. This room is a great place to start if you need to find someone to listen, to pray, and to worship.
Second, take time and make the choice to be purposefully thankful. Gratitude has a way of reminding us of joy and the reasons we have to rejoice even in the midst of pain. Isn’t that a great word: rejoice? It’s a verb, an action, and it carries the prefix of repetition. It is joy practiced and repeated. When has God filled you with joy in the past? What are His graces and good gifts to you today and in your current life? Focus on the ways He has and is showing you His goodness. Make a written list if you need to. Read and re-read it. Carry it with you through the day, and let it prompt prayers and expressions of gratitude. Then don’t be surprised at the growing sense of joy filling and shifting your heart.
Third, let’s worship God for who He is. The circumstances of life can steal our joy, but even in the darkest times, we can worship God not for what He does but for who He is. His eternal love and faithfulness never change, despite the ever-changing events of our lives. His goodness and mercy never run out.
Forth, Abide in His love.
Prayer: God, thank You for the good news of great joy that is for everyone—that Your Son, Jesus, has come to save us. Please help us to experience joy alongside the pain of life and to respond to joy in worship. Draw us to Yourself as we draw near to Christmas, and let us be a source of joy to others in this season and every season. Amen.
Benediction: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)