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The Source of Joy

Well as you know, we are smack-dab in the middle of the Advent season— and for these past few weeks, we have been lighting these Advent candles – which kinda act like a countdown for Christmas. Not only do these Advent candles build a sense of anticipation for Christmas, but each one also reminds us of a different aspect of the Christmas story – Hope, Faith, Joy, Peace, and Love.

We started two weeks ago with Hope – and we saw that throughout the Scriptures God has continually offered his people Promises of Hope – a hope that is found in His Son, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again from the grave. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we can have the hope of eternal life with our Creator.

And this hope isn’t just wishful thinking. We were reminded by the second candle – the candle of faith – that our hope is assured and guaranteed by God himself. As we read from Hebrews 11:1… 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 ESV

God’s track record of keeping promises is 100%! We can rest assured that the Word of God will never fail! And so, our hope in Christ is guaranteed through our faith in the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God of the Universe!

And because of that, we can experience true and lasting joy – which of course, brings us now to the third candle.

 As Jesse & Mikayla have just told us, today’s candle is the Shepherd’s Candle – or the Candle of Joy.

This candle reminds us, not only of the joy of the shepherds when the angels announced to them that the Saviour had been born in Bethlehem, but it also reminds us of the joy we can have every day of the year – no matter what our circumstances – because of that little baby born and laid in a manger some 2000 years ago.

Now today, I’m actually not going to be preaching from that passage in Luke chapter 2 that talks about the angels and the shepherds, but I do want to read through that before we begin because it does set the stage for what we’re going to talk about. So if you have your Bibles, you can turn with me to Luke chapter 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.”  

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”Luke 2:8-15

This is a very familiar passage for all of us. We probably read it multiple times every Christmas! According to the angels, this little baby boy, born in the Bethlehem some 2000 years ago would be the source of great joy to all the world – even for us here in Penhold in 2022.

And so I want to spend some time today looking a little more in depth at the nature of that joy. What kind of joy are we talking about here? Is this the warm fuzzy feeling that we get as we sit around the Christmas tree, enjoying family and friends? Is this joy an emotion that wells up within us and spills out in joyful song – or is it more of a personal choice that we each have to make? Like mom always told you, “You can choose to be happy.” Or perhaps it’s neither of those things? Maybe joy is something different all together.

But 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? And further more, how does the angel’s good news help you and I experience joy today?

And maybe that’s really the bottom line here – being filled with joy certainly sounds like a good thing – but what does that actually look like in our lives today?

Well, that’s what I want us to figure out this morning – and I think we might be surprise at the answer. When I started writing this message, I kinda expected this message on joy to go in a certain direction – primarily focusing on the Christmas message, but it really ended up in a different place all together. But it was a good place – so I really just want to share my journey of exploring joy 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 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 whatsoever on our joy. We can have joy in the bad times just as easily as we can have joy in the good 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, you’ll remember from last week that 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 still yet unmarried – and Mary was a virgin. So now imagine how her conversation with Jospeh would go when Joseph 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 and feeling absolutely alone – I mean, who is she going to tell? Who would believe her? But yet, you’ll remember 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

Amazing! Mary was 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 2:17… 

17 But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. 18 Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy. Philippians 2:17-18

Isn’t that amazing! Despite all that he had gone through, He rejoiced! He says even if he should die, he would rejoice! 

Paul actually talks about joy and rejoicing 13 times in this letter to the Philippians – which, but the way, was written while he sitting in a Roman jail. Incredible. And as we can see, his joy does not seem to be connected at all to his circumstances. In fact, he plainly says in Philippians 4:4…

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

Paul had joy in every circumstance – the good ones and the bad ones!

And if you’re still not convinced that you can be joyful in any circumstance, 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 willingly take our sin and our punishment upon himself and die a horrible death on a cross. Isaiah 53 describes it this way:

3 He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.

4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!

5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.

7 He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.

8 Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.

9 He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.

It’s horrific to think about all that Jesus willingly endured on our behalf… And of course, the natural question is why? Why on earth would anyone willingly do that? Why would the God of heaven subject themselves to the excruciating pain and humiliation of death on a cross? 

Well, the surprising answer is: “For joy”. Look at this verse in Hebrews 12 – verse 2:

“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 NIV

Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him! How does that even make sense? He endured pain, 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 believe it or not, I think 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. But let me show you what I found…

Now just to give you the background to the book of Nehemiah – somewhere around 600 BC, Israel had been conquered and pretty much destroyed by the Babylonians. Most of the survivors had been taken to live in exile in and around the city of Babylon – and those people then lived in exile for generations. By the time Nehemiah comes on the scene, Jerusalem had been lying in ruins for nearly 150 years, however by this point, a handful of the exiles had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, as well as the the city itself and it’s walls. And if you know the story, Nehemiah was primarily responsible for the rebuilding of the city 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 our Christmas festivities, 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.

This passage suggests that the source of 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 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. As they read the Scriptures, no doubt they would have heard Exodus 32:6 where God describes himself as the God of compassion and mercy. Let me read that for you:

 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 these Jews in the time of Nehemiah 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 earlier – 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 had said.

And that’s the same reason that Mary could have joy in her circumstances. She heard and understood the Word of God as delivered by the angel Gabriel. 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. If Paul’s troubles were small – our troubles must really be insignificant then! 

But how could Paul have that perspective? Well, 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. He believed that our suffering in this short life would produce much glory for God for eternity.

Because he had 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 the joy set before Him. Hebrews 12:2 says…

“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 NIV

The same principle is in play here. Jesus could endure the cross because of the joy set before Him. He had full confidence in the Word of His heavenly Father – 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 – and through that, God would receive much glory!

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 believe the Word of God. 

I want to close today simply by 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.

So let’s read these passages together.

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 experience a lifetime of joy – then make every effort to hear and understand and believe the Word of God.


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