This week we are continuing our preaching series entitled, “All I Want for Christmas Is...” Two weeks ago we talked about the idea of hope and how God's actions deliver just that very thing to us this time of year. Last week we spoke about the idea of peace, what God means by peace, and how we can live to achieve it. Today we are turning our attention to joy, what it is and where we can find it.
What is Joy?
I am sure all of us have people and events that bring us joy; time spent with a best friend, a favorite memory of days past, a special event you attend, a certain time of the year. And when we think of those things it brings a smile to our face, a tear to our eye, or even an audible laugh from our belly.
For me right now I find joy in my boys. They wear me out but recharge me all in the same breath. They can frustrate me and then in a way no one else can, remind me of what true joy is. I love to watch them learn and to see their eyes get as big around as a silver dollars and the joy just explodes on their faces. When they walk up to me and want to show me affection or place a blanket over the legs of their sleeping daddy, I melt. For me that is finding joy in my boys.
When I see my boys I often think about my relationship with Christ. I think about how Christ must feel towards me. Do I wear him out? Does Christ get a feeling of complete happiness, complete contentment, when He thinks of me? Does he find joy in his interactions with me?
Now some days joy comes easily, others it seems so far away that you wonder if you will ever see it again. And looking at the circumstances Mary finds herself in, one might think that is how Mary might be feeling at the beginning of our second Scripture lesson this morning.
As our lesson opens we read that Mary is in the sixth month of her pregnancy. And this poor girl has already gone through so much. She has avoided a quiet divorce from her fiance, she has avoided the customary stoning for being pregnant out of wedlock, and the shame heaved upon her must have been horrific. Not to mention, the horrible accusations, the unfair judgments, and the hours of crying. This had to be trying on Mary. But here in the sixth month comes good 'ol Gabriel to give Mary a visit and to help her understand what it is that is happening. But more than that Gabriel comes to give her joy. He greets her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (NRSV Luke 1:28b). Scripture tells us that Mary is troubled or perplexed by this and not quite sure what to make of all of this. Understanding that dynamic Gabriel tells her not to be afraid for she has found favor with God. Then he tells her just how special and wonderful this child in her womb will be. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (NIV Luke 1:32-33).
Mary then asks just one question, “how can this be?” and Gabriel tells her because nothing is impossible with God.
How can Mary possible find any peace or joy in the midst of what was happening to her? There’s a clue in how she answers the angel. Listen to her words: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be with me as you have said.” Mary had a deep trust and faith in God that carried her even through times when she could have questioned and doubted the wisdom of God’s plan for her. She had surrendered her life into the hands of the Almighty and trusted him to take care of her. That’s how she was able to journey into peace and joy instead of sorrow or bitterness over what was happening to her.
Christ is Joy
And if we look to our Scripture lesson from Isaiah we get a better understanding of just who this baby will grow to be. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” (NIV Isaiah 9:6-7)
This tells us that Christ by his very nature will be joy. He will bring peace, he will bring justice and righteousness. And for all of this there will be no end! This child that Mary is carrying will bring a joy like never before to a world that so desperately needs it.
So often if we look to movies we see a serious, unemotional Christ. All He does is walk and preach and very seldom do we see a joyful, laughing Jesus. But for me Christ is so much more than that.
I have always been drawn to happy images of Christ. In fact my favorite verse in Scripture is from the Old Testament, from the book of Zephaniah, not one that would typically make your favorite verse list. But listen to the words: "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Think about that - God will sing a song of joy over you!
In John Ortberg's wonderful book The Life You've Always Wanted (Zondervan, 2002), he writes: “We will not understand God until we understand this about him: "God is the happiest being in the universe" (G. K. Chesterton). God knows sorrow….but [his sorrow like his anger] is his temporary response to a fallen world. That sorrow will be banished forever from his heart on the day the world is set right. Joy is God's basic character. God is the happiest being in the universe.”
Joy is what makes Christmas. Each of us may look to some annual family tradition to trigger that joy. But the trees, the carols, the cookies, the presents, the parties, are only various expressions of a single experience of the spirit JOY born again into our souls.
This Advent season we can all experience the joy that is Jesus Christ. Mary showed us how. Regardless of our situations, regardless of how we are treated, regardless of how we feel physically and spiritually, we can all find joy.
It is found by releasing all our circumstances, all our fears, and all our apprehensions into the hands of that little baby born so long ago. When we trust Christ to take care of us, to turn over everything to him, and to surrender to His will, and not our own, then and only then will we find joy. Christ came for you, Christ loves you, and Christ wants you to know the joy that only comes from him. Trust the baby, trust our Savior, and I pray that you experience a joy this year like none you have ever felt before.