This is the next sermon in our current series, “Do You See What I See”
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When we talk about joy, we usually start with what joy is not. Now, I’ll do the same with a word picture. Think of the Grinch – The Grinch is not joyful, is he?
So, when we try to explain what joy is, we often swing the pendulum too far in the other direction. We create a fake, overly enthusiastic kind of person. Now think about the character Buddy from the movie Elf.
So, what is true joy? We know it’s not just a reaction to the ups and downs of life.
Joy is knowing that you have whatever you need, to face whatever may come. No matter what the circumstance, God’s blessings are still there. Because of that you are less stressed because you know that God is good and that you are loved.
Joy doesn’t come from what you have. It comes from what you know can’t be taken from you…
They can take your job, but they can’t take your purpose.
They can take a relationship from you, but they can’t take God’s love from you.
They can take your health, but they can’t take God’s grace or power from you.
They can even take your life, but they can’t take away your eternal destiny.
That’s why the Bible can say in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Be joyful always”. (If you have heard me preach before, you know that I always point out the many absolutes that are found in God’s Word.) The Bible uses the word“ always”. Really? Always? I can think of a few circumstances in my life when I may not have been joyful. So, how can you have that kind of joy? The truth is that if you’re waiting for the perfect circumstances to have joy, you’re going to be waiting a long time.
So how do you find the kind of joy that lasts in this imperfect, often ugly world? Well, the answer is found in the message of Christmas…that God came down to earth to bring joy into this challenging world.
For the rest of this message we will look at the people involved in the Christmas story and see how they found joy in the first Christmas.The shepherds talk about joy. The wise men talk about joy. Mary and Joseph talk about joy. They were all filled with joy and they didn’t even know the end of the story…but we do!
The joy that they experienced can be our joy. Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Whenever you read a story in the Bible it’s not just written for the people at that time. It’s also written for us. It’s written to give us hope. It’s written to give us encouragement. It’s written to give us joy. So, let’s now see what we can learn from each part of the story.
The first lesson we can learn comes from the shepherds.
1. Joy is here when God is present.
Most people are looking for joy in all the wrong places. It’s not somewhere else. It’s here. It’s where you are. It can be found in the life that you’re living.
God wants you to find joy where you are, like the shepherds.
Luke 2:8-9 says, “That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.”
So, here are these shepherds. It’s just another night watching the sheep, and all of a sudden in the midst of their normal life God shows up. Joy shows up. Now, I need you to track me closely. Wherever God is…there’s joy. Jesus lives in us; God lives in us. So, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, God is there, so joy is there also.
When you’re at work, God is there.
When you’re on vacation, God is there.
When you’re at home, God is there.
Searching for happiness or joy in other places is a waste of time. It’s our stinkin’ thinkin’ that doesn’t allow us to experience joy. You don’t have to leave your job to find joy. You don’t have to leave your family to find joy. Finding joy is not “out there”, it comes from God and is “in here”.
Look at the shepherds. The Bible says, “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared among them.” Suddenly. God shows up. We all know the power of “suddenly”. Something can happen and everything changes. Suddenly you get a phone call.
Suddenly you get that diagnosis. Suddenly there’s an auto accident…and everything can change for the worse.
But the truth is, just as suddenly, everything can change for the better. I can find joy. Right here, right now, suddenly, God can do something new. I can begin to look at life differently and find hope. Not in my circumstances, but in God’s love. I can begin to look at life differently, from an eternal perspective, and see that God’s love is there no matter what. I can know that no matter what the circumstances, God’s going to show up in my life. That’s what happened to those shepherds. Suddenly God showed up. Suddenly joy was there.
The second lesson comes from the experiences and realities of life:
2. Joy is sent by God to us and others.
One of my favorite things to do, is to come up with “working man’s” definitions for deep spiritual concepts. i.e. Faith—the ability to look forward to the hindsight. Here’s my Joy definition—An inner, un-stealable, never-ceasing, God-sized, God-based pleasure. Joy is one of those God-given attributes that is a gift to us. It’s not something you spend the rest of your life trying to “find” or struggle to “keep”. It’s something that God sends into your life and that you “receive” from Him. He sent it to the shepherds AND now he’s sent it to us.
Luke 2:10-12, “They [the shepherds] were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.’”
So, joy is here. How do I find it? How does it come into my life? Knowing that Joy is something that is desirable, but not knowing how to get it, there are a lot of different strategies people use. Some people try to work harder to get it. “If I just work hard enough, think hard enough, if I somehow just work myself into it, I’m going to be a joyful person”. If that were true, the most joyful people in the world would be workaholics. And we all know that’s not true. So, it’s not a matter of me working harder to discover it.
Some people think that to be joyful is just to ignore all the bad in the world. I’ll just pretend all that stuff is just not here and then I can be a joyful person. Those people aren’t joyful. They’re just in denial—which, incidentally, makes them frustrated and guilty, which gives them the opposite of Joy. Joy is recognizing IN THE REALITIES OF LIFE that God is here.
There are other people who think that joy is tied to daily happiness. If that were the case, Joyfulness would come and go with the wind. God wants to bring joy into every one of our lives as a permanent condition (remember my definition), and he sends it into every one of our lives. It’s not found. You don’t have to go find it, discover it. It is sent. You could spend the rest of your life trying to find what God has already sent… and miss it. Sometimes when we look so hard and work so hard to find what God has already sent, we often overlook his gift.
Joy is not created from within, from my own strength. Joy is sent from above and is planted in our hearts. The angels said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” I think that is an interesting statement. Why would the angels mention “Good News” AND “Great Joy”? Good news becomes great joy when it becomes personal. And it’s personal for ALL people—at the time it’s given, and forever more. It’s not only a result of an experience, it’s also Experiential. It became personal.
Christmas is personal. Jesus came for you. He came for you! He came to let you know, “I love you. I have a plan for your life. I have a promise for your life. I have a future for your life. I have a no-matter-what love for your life”. Christmas is personal. When you recognize the personal significance and ramifications of why Jesus was sent—that Jesus was sent not just for the world…but also for ME. Then, all of a sudden, the good news becomes great joy. The joy gets sent into your life.
I want you to notice what these shepherds did when they went and saw the child. They did what the angel told them to do. And the Bible says in Luke 2:17-18, “After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished.”
So, they went and told. First, joy is sent. Then, joy is shared. You tell other people. They went and told. Notice how people responded. They didn’t ridicule them. They weren’t bored. They were astonished. Because this world needs good news and because people need good news.
This is a powerful tool for evangelism because people can’t argue with YOUR experience, your joyful life. So, I just want to encourage you, if you know Christ and you know Joy, ACT IT OUT. Live, talk, act like you have Joy. One of the most effective statements for Christ that you can make, is living a life of Joy, even THROUGH the tough times. So, joy! Joy is here. Joy is sent into our lives. And then from the wise men we learn a third shocking truth about joy.
The third and final lesson comes from Mary, the mother of God:
3. Joy is a choice…a difficult choice.
Mary had great joy. She sang a whole song about it.
You can read it in Luke 1:46, “Mary responded, ‘Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.’”
Mary is singing songs of joy, but she wasn’t always singing. That’s not where she started. It was a decision, a choice that she made that brought her to that place. Look at where she started. Luke 1:29-30, “Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for you have found favor with God!’”
I see three important words, “confused,” “disturbed” and “afraid.” That’s where Mary started. And you’d feel that way too. Here’s this teenage girl and she’s just been told that she’s going to have a virgin birth. “How am I going to explain this one, God? No one will believe me.” This pregnant teenager is confused, disturbed and afraid. But then, just a few verses later she’s joyful. What happened to change here mood so quickly? She made a decision…a difficult decision. She decided to trust God instead of trusting herself. The thing about joy is that it often scares you at first because you’ve got to let go of the familiar and make a decision to totally trust God.
Joy is found on the other side of the difficult choice to trust God instead of trusting yourself. We need to let our lives reflect our faith in Jesus Christ. Instead of fear dictating our choices, we must pray about everything with confidence and hope.
Be strong, trust in God’s goodness, and the joy that He has planted in your heart will flourish.