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The Unexpected Source of Joy

We’ve been preaching through the season of Advent – remembering the first (and looking forward to the second) coming of Jesus. These Advent candles remind us of the many gifts we have (and the gifts we look forward to) because of Jesus’ coming.  We started two weeks ago with God’s gift of hope – last week was a reminder of the gift of peace – and this week, of course, we want to look at God’s gift of joy.

This gift of joy is made possible only because of Jesus’ arrival into the world as a little baby. We read at our Christmas Celebration on Friday in Luke chapter 2 of how, on the night of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem and announced to them this good news that would bring great joy to all people. Let me read for you in Luke 2 – starting at verse 8.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

This little baby boy, born in the Bethlehem some 2000 years ago would be the source of joy to the world – even for us here in Penhold in 2017.

And I know this probably isn’t necessarily ‘new’ news for you this morning. Chances are, you many of you have heard this good news before. Especially if you’ve been here for the past two weeks.

One of the concerns that I had when we decided to do these Advent messages was that hope, peace, and joy are so intertwined with each other that I feared I’d be preaching the same message every week – just using a different word.

  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us hope because our sins are forgiven and he has promised to return and make all things right.
  • I could talk about how Jesus gives us peace because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.
  • And I could talk about how Jesus gives us joy because our sins are forgiven and He has promised to return and make all things right.

And of course, that would all be very true! Christmas really is a ‘buy one, get two free’ kind of a deal. Hope, peace, and joy are all part of the same package. They are all made possible by Jesus coming to earth, being born as a baby in a manger – living and then dying on the cross and being raised back to life again.

But even though they are all so closely related, I do want to talk a little bit today specifically about joy. As I was studying up on the topic of joy this week – I found that even defining ‘joy’ could be a little tricky. There was no one clear definition of joy.

  • Some would say that joy is another word for happiness. Others would say that joy is certainly not the same thing as happiness.
  • Some would say that joy is a feeling or an emotion. Others would say, no. No it’s not.
  • Some would say we can choose to be joyful – that is it an act of our will – but others see joyfulness a natural by-product of something else.

There are lots of different ways to define joy – I think there can be good arguments made for all of those different ways.

So how do we understand joy? What exactly did the angels mean when they said that this good news would bring great joy to all people? How does this good news help you and I experience joy today?

Regardless of how we define it, joy sure sounds like a good thing – so how do we get it? I guess that’s really our bottom line – how do we experience joy in our lives today?

Well, this morning I’m going to invite you to explore joy with me. It was an interesting journey for me this week as I tried to wrap my head around this question of joy – I kinda expected to go one way – primarily focusing on the Christmas message, but I think ended up in a different place all together. But it was a good place – so I really just want to share my journey with you this morning.

One of the first major themes that came out as I looked at the topic of joy was that joy is not connected in any way to our circumstances. And you’d think that it should. It should be easier to be joyful in the good times of life than it is to be joyful in the hard times. That would makes sense, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. As we look at the joy that is talked about in the Bible, it seems that our circumstances have no bearing on our joy. We can have joy in the good times and we can just as easily have joy in the bad times – circumstances seem to make no difference.

And I’ll give you three examples for that.

First of all, consider Mary & Joseph. Consider their circumstances. When Mary was first told by the angel that she would become pregnant and have a son – at that time, she was an unmarried teenager. She was engaged to Joseph – which at that time was as legally binding as marriage – but they were yet unmarried – and Mary was a virgin. Imagine how her conversation with Jospeh would go when Jospeh discovered that she was pregnant! By their law and in their culture, he had every right – not only to divorce her, but to publicly bring her before the authorities and she could be put to death.

So Mary’s circumstances certainly don’t seem to indicate that she should be joyful. I would think most young teenage girls in those circumstances would be terribly frightened. Feeling absolutely alone – I mean, who is she going to tell? Who would believe her? But yet, look at Mary’s response to the angel in Luke 1:38

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Luke 1:38

That’s a pretty incredible response from a teenage girl – But if that’s not enough –  jump down a few verses to see what Mary says a little later. Look at the joy she has even in these crazy circumstances: in Verse 46

46 Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

47   How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

Luke 1:46-47

Wow! Rejoicing even in those circumstances. Now of course, you might be saying “Well, that was Mary. She was obviously a very special young lady. She was kinda an exception to the rule.”

Well, let me give you another example. Paul is a great example of having joy in the midst of terrible circumstances. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Pauls writes about how he had….

“…been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”

2 Corinthians 11:23b-27

In other words, Paul has not had an easy, care-free life. He has gone though a lot – but yet look what he writes in Philippians 4:4.

4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Philippians 4:4

Paul actually talks about joy and rejoicing 13 times in this letter to the Philippians – written while sitting in a Roman jail. Incredible. His joy does not seem to be connected at all to his circumstances.

And if you’re still not convinced, let me give you one more example: Jesus. Consider how amazing it is that Jesus – God Himself – would come and be born as a human baby. And not only that, but that he would even be willing to die on a cross. Paul explains in Philippians 2:6

6 Though he was God,

    he did not think of equality with God

    as something to cling to.

7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

    he took the humble position of a slave

    and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

8   he humbled himself in obedience to God

    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8

And why on earth would he do that? For joy. Look at this verse in Hebrews 12 – verse 2:

“For the joy set out for him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.” Hebrews 12:2a NET

Jesus endured the cross for joy! That doesn’t make sense. He endured pain, and immense suffering and death… for joy? If that’s the case, then clearly, the source of joy is not our circumstances. Joy has to come from something else.

And I found that something else in the book of Nehemiah. Now Nehemiah was not where I was expecting to find the answers to the questions of Joy.

To give you the background to the book of Nehemiah – Israel had been conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians. Most of the survivors had been taken to live in exile around the city of Babylon. By the time Nehemiah comes on the scene, Jerusalem had been lying in ruins for nearly 150 years, but by this point, a handful of the exiles had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, the city and it’s walls. Nehemiah was primarily responsible for rebuilding of the walls.

Well, after all this had happened, Nehemiah called for a public assembly to read the Word of God – which hadn’t been publicly read for generations now. They hadn’t heard nor had they followed God’s instructions for years. And so in Nehemiah 8, we read what happened.

8 They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

10 And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. [This sounds a lot like Christmas, doesn’t it?] This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

11 And the Levites, too, quieted the people, telling them, “Hush! Don’t weep! For this is a sacred day.” 12 So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.

Nehemiah 8:8-12

And that last little phrase is what stuck out to me. They were celebrating with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.

Their joy came from hearing God’s words and understanding them. You see, their circumstances suggested that they should be in deep mourning. As they heard the Word of God, they began to realize just how badly they had violated God’s laws. They began to realize how terribly repulsive and wrong their sin was. They began to realize how much pain and hurt they had caused God, had cause their their nation, and had cause their own families. So that was certainly a fitting cause for deep mourning and sorrow.

But at the same time, as they read God’s Word – they also heard about God’s mercy, his love, his promise to restore them if they were to repent from their sin. No doubt they would have heard Exodus 32:6 where God identifies himself as the God of compassion and mercy….

 6 The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,

“Yahweh! The Lord!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.

7 I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;
the entire family is affected—
even children in the third and fourth generations.”

Exodus 32:6-7

And they had certainly experienced the both parts of that. They were the third and four generations that had been affected by the sins of the nation of Israel 150 years ago – the sins that had caused their cities to be destroyed and their families to be sent into exile.

But now, as they read the Word of God, it reminded them that God was the God of compassion and mercy. That he is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. That he lavishes unfailing love to a thousand generations and that He forgives iniquity, rebellion, and sin.

By hearing and understanding the Word of God – the Israelites could have joy despite their circumstances because they believed what God said.

And that’s the same reason that Mary could have joy in her circumstances. She heard and understood the Word of God that came from the angel. She believed that she truly had found favour with God. She believed that she, although a virgin, would conceive and have a son. She believed that her son would be called the Son of the Most High and that he would rule over Israel forever. That’s what God said. And so she believed it and accepted it.

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Luke 1:38

It didn’t matter what Jospeh would say or do. It didn’t matter what her parents or her friends would think. It didn’t matter if no one believed her. She believed God. That’s why she could say in Verse 46

46 Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

47   How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

Luke 1:46-47

She could have joy because she heard and understood and believed the Word of God.

Same thing with Paul. How could he rejoice while sitting in Roman prison? After being beaten and whipped and shipwrecked and stoned and hungry and cold and everything else….

Paul had heard and understood the Word of God. He accepted it as truth. Look what he writes in 2 Corinthians 4:14…

 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:14-18

I love how Paul describes his troubles as small – ones that won’t last very long. Our troubles must really be insignificant then!

But how could Paul do that? He believed God. He believed that Mary’s little baby Jesus was indeed the Son of God. And He believed that God raised him from the dead after he died on the cross. He believed God’s promise of the resurrection for those who trust in Him. Of eternal paradise with Him. Of a time very soon, when God would make all things right again.

Because Paul heard and understood and accepted the Word of God, Paul could have incredible joy – no matter what his circumstances.

We also mentioned how Jesus endured the cross for joy. Hebrews 12:2 says…

Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:2

The same principle is in play here. Jesus could endure the cross because he was looking forward to the joy that He knew was coming. He had full confidence in that same Word of God – that he would die and yet be resurrected. And through that, every person on earth would have the opportunity to turn to God for the forgiveness of their sins and the hope of eternal life with Him in paradise.

That gave Jesus great joy!

And so this morning, I don’t know what sort of circumstances you’re going through. I know that Christmas can be a hard time for a lot of people. There can be family issues, money issues, health issues – or all kinds of stuff.

But I want to remind you that you can still have joy even in the midst of that. You can have joy when you hear and understand and accept the Word of God.

I want to close today by simply reading a few different promises from the Word of God. I’ve asked several different folks to help me by reading certain passages – we’re just going to read through them one after the other. And like I said, I don’t know what circumstances you’re going through, but I trust that as you hear the word of God this morning, and as you understand what God is saying to you – that would believe it and accept it. And in doing so, you would experience tremendous joy.

1 Oh, the joys of those who do not

    follow the advice of the wicked,

    or stand around with sinners,

    or join in with mockers.

2 But they delight in the law of the Lord,

    meditating on it day and night.

3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,

    bearing fruit each season.

Their leaves never wither,

    and they prosper in all they do.

Psalm 1:1-3

 

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;

    do not depend on your own understanding.

6 Seek his will in all you do,

    and he will show you which path to take.

Proverbs 3:5-6

 

10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.

    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you.

    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10

 

9 The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. 10 Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:9-10

 

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

 

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

 

9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:9-10

 

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

And these passages are just a small sampling of the incredible promises of God. I would encourage you, if you want to know joy this Christmas season – if you want to live a lifetime of joy – then do everything you can to hear and understand and believe the Word of God.

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