I want to start today with a story about a phone call I received one day at work from a woman who was attending Journey and she said to me, Phil, I want to share with you something that might sound weird at first because I believe that the Lord has given me a message to tell you.
Now that’s unusual, right? You would have to admit. Let me ask you – if someone walked up to you and said, I was praying for you and the Lord gave me a message for you, how would you react.
My head was kind of spinning, like, is this lady crazy? Is she going to lay into me? God wanted me to tell you to stop it! Do your devotions! Do a better job!
But this was the message – “The Lord wanted me to tell you that you make him laugh.” Oh Snap! How cool is that!
That sounds strange, doesn’t it? And I hope you know I’m not saying it in any sense of self-promotion. I’m saying It because it revealed in me an under-developed sense of who God was. I have to admit that I struggled in my head with concept of a happy God.
And I must say it took me completely by surprise, because never once in my life did I ever consider that God would laugh – at any joke, let alone a joke I tell.
This morning as we turn our attention to the Christmas story, we are going to be talking about joy. Joy! Joy to the world, the Lord has come is a song we sing.
Did you know that the birth of Jesus is filled with references of joy? The Magi, when they see the star?
And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! Matthew 2:10 NLT
Upon hearing Mary’s voice, Luke tells us that her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, said, 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.
Mary’s song that she sings in response to being pregnant with Jesus? The first words out of her mouth as she sings, Luke 1:46,47“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
And of course, the night that Jesus was born, 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!
Joy is stamped all over the Christmas Story. And why wouldn’t it be? The birth of Jesus initiates God’s great plan to make the kingdom of heaven available to all who would like to be part of it.
This week our small group met and we took a closer look at this passage in Luke and one of my friends in the group said that she was struck by the accessibility of Jesus. There he is, laying in a manger. In a barn. No palace. No walls. No moat. No guards. No doors to lock. when these shepherds show up they just burst into the barn – where’s the baby! If there was a gate the gate wasn’t locked – it was easy to come in.
And it hasn’t stopped to this day. Jesus is astonishingly available to us. There are no barriers to him. No walls. No guards. No entrance exam to get into the kingdom. Whosoever wishes may enter through the gate – and Jesus says I am the gate. Enter through me into a Kingdom where God promises to tend to you. Where God shepherds our lives with love, tenderness, compassion, intention.
We come into the Kingdom of God as we are, and what do we find? This kingdom isn’t a survival of the fittest – like the kingdom of darkness. The default world into which we were born is summed up with darwimianisms like, Eat or be eaten. But The kingdom of heaven?
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Within this alternative kingdom – wildly available through the gate of Jesus, we find peace and joy and the ability to become the kind of person we internally always hoped we woudl become.
No wonder that the Christmas season is stamped with Joy. The birth of Jesus is the initiation of God’s great plan to provide a way out of the dog eat dog kingdom and a way into the kingdom of heaven – available to all who would like to be part of it.
Christmas is stamped with Joy for good reasons. Let me show you just a few reasons for joy this morning.
Four Reasons for Joy.
1. God is joyful.
When I was a freshman in high school I worked for a deli in New York called the GB Deli. And it was a pizza shop and Deli. And the owner was a guy named Vinnie. And Vinnie spoke mostly Italian. His English was very limited. And Vinnie was one of the most difficult bosses anyone could ever have. It didn’t matter how hard I worked – it didn’t matter how clean I got the dishes – they were never clean enough. Every night I mopped the floors before going home and I promise that every night Vinnie made me do it over because he felt I didn’t quite do it right. I never heard Vinnie compliment me in any way. He was a perpetual grouch.
Now I bring that u because I can’t help but believe there might be some people in here and your image of God is that he is a lot like Vinnie. It doesn’t matter what you do – in your view of him he is a perpetual grouch. Somewhere along the line someone told you that God was like that.
And I will tell you – you know – if that’s your view of God – if that was MY view of God – then I would also be an atheist or agnostic most likely. I’d say – who knows if there is a God – but who wants to follow a God that cannot be satisfied – a cosmic killjoy.
Here’s the truth. We celebrate Christmas with great joy. Because the good news is that God is eternally joyful. We serve a happy God.
For instance in Genesis 1 we see that after God created each of the elements in the universe, God says, “It is good.” God created and delights in everything we see.
Now we are guilty sometimes – in our efforts of treating God with the dignity that he deserves, we sometimes rob him of the joy he expresses. And so we read this and we say God said, It is Good. About as boring a way on earth to say that, right?
What is the message that is being conveyed – God looked at what he made and said – I like that! Nice work! Is it too much to look at this and say that after God created these things – God said, “Perfecto!” As he kisses his fingers and throws a kiss into the air?!
Look at that mountain! Look at that ocean! Look at that rainbow! Of course God saved the best for last – when he created humankind he stepped back and said! That’s very good! That’s what I’m talkin’ bout! Hot dog diggity that’s a good. Mama Mia! That’s a spicy Meatball!
On a serious note though – it’s very important that we see God as the joyful person he is. This is a world that is inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it. It is a world in which God is continually at play and over which he constantly rejoices.
It is a great and important task to come to terms with what we really think when we think of God. We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.
When we are blown away with the joy and wonder of a beautiful sunset or sunrise or rainbow, we need to remember that God sees and experiences that same thing from ever vantage point. This and billions of other scenes like and unlike it, in this and billions of other worlds.
Great tidal waves of joy must constantly wash through his being.
When I go to the Henry Doorly Zoo one of my favorite parts is the aquarium – and specifically the jellyfish – lit up in that spectacular blue background – and it’s mesmerizing to watch them move.
But God has seas full of them, which he constantly enjoys.
When the Hubble Telescope started taking photos of the universe that look like this… we were blown away with the beauty of the universes – but we have to remember that God created it all – knows what is happening there – and I can’t help but feel that he stands back with joy at how it all turned out.
God is eternally Joyful. He is the most joyful person in the universe. And Jesus was the most joyful person who ever lived. We serve a happy God. And my guess is that seems to some to be almost disrespectful of God to say that. And if you feel that way I’m going to guess that it’s because somewhere along the way you decided that God since God is serious – and he is serious. Since God is intense – and he is intense – since God is a judge – and he is a judge – that therefore God cannot be happy. But it is simply not the case.
God is filled with joy.
As a matter of fact the bible says that God is joyful. Jesus, in the book of John, prays that his joy will overflow into the lives of his followers and make them joyful too, and it also says that one of the fruit of the holy spirit is Joy.
So you have all three members of the trinity being stamped with joy. And so what we see is that God has existed eternally in a joyful community. A joyful dance of three – and so what we find in the Christmas story is this: The initiation of God’s plan to be able to invite human beings into the joyful community of the trinity.
Christmas is God’s invitation to share the joy of God. God is eternally joyful. And of all the things that bring God joy, perhaps nothing brings God greater joy than when one of us rebel humans makes the decision to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. And we looked at these verses a couple of weeks ago – but in Luke 15 we read three stories Jesus tells to help us get over our view of God as being the grumpy guy that cannot be pleased.
And this brings us to our second reason for Joy.
2. God is most joyful when we turn to him.
And I bring this up because there might be someone here this morning and you are feeling like, well Phil, God and I aren’t exactly on speaking terms. I kind of turned my back on him a long time ago and so I don’t exactly think that he’s overjoyed to see me.
And can I tell you that you are so wrong! Luke 15 – three different stories about lost things being found – lost sheep – shepherd finds the lost sheep and it says he comes back overjoyed.
Lost coin found? Overjoyed! rejoice with me! Lost son? Prodigal son runs off? When he returns? Rejoice. Throw a party. Break out the streamers. Over joyed. And in case we were missing the point, Jesus tells the point of the story as plainly as possible when he said,
Luke 15:10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Do you have a hard time imagining that God is joyful? What image do you have of God? It’s actually quit important. How we view God will affect how we act toward him.
3. The Joy that God gives is not subject to circumstances.
I don’t have to have everything go my way in order to be joyful. I don’t have to let life dictate the kind of person I will be that day. Today I am eeyore. Got no friends. Got no nothin. Oh today I will be tigger.
That’s just called being moody. Moody people allow life to dictate what kind of person they are going to be. And listen – some of you are a little more like Eeyore than Tigger. Great.
You be you – just allow Joy to run in the background of the real you. And you can’t know the real you until if you change like the weather, based on circumstances outside of your control.
Joy isn’t a mood. It’s not something that shows up if you happen to be in the right place at the right time. It’s not the lottery. Its not dumb luck.
Joy is a state of being for the soul that comes from the confidence of knowing that God loves us and is governing my life with wisdom. Joy is a sense of confidence that enables us to see the goodness of God even in the difficult times.
The book of Philippians is commonly known as the book of Joy. 16 times in four short chapters Paul references joy. And the interesting thing about this is that Paul wrote the letter from a prison cell.
To Paul – joy wasn’t tied to favorable circumstances. Instead joy was a deep seated understanding that he was solid in God and safe in his care. The Lord is my life and my salvation – in whom shall I fear? The Lord is my strength and the stronghold of my life. An ever resent help in times of trouble.
And this is why Paul can write things like,“I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 7:4). Or “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Colossians 1:24).
James, in the new testament letter that he wrote – leads off with the theme of joy. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Suffering produces something in us that cannot be produced through other means. Difficult times are never wasted by God.
4. It is God’s desire to make us joyful people.
John 15:11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! says Jesus. Overflowing Joy. As he prays for us in John 17 he prays that we would be filled with joy.
In the book of Galatians we read about the fruit of the Spirit. As we grow in our faith, the idea is that we become the kind of people who exhibit these different kinds of characteristics – and the first three that are mentioned are all internal virtues of a changed soul – the fruit of the spirit is love, joy and peace.
So if you are struggling this morning with joylessness? I’d say that it’s important we recognize that joy is not on the other side of the galaxy. It’s not impossible. Jesus wants you to be joyful. The Spirit wants to create joy within us. And so then the question becomes, what should I do if I’m feeling joyless today?
And I suppose the first thing I’d say is that I don’t want you to be hard on yourself. You probably have a good reason right now why you are feeling joylessness. It’s one thing to say that circumstances don’t have to dictate our level of joy, but it’s another thing entirely when you work in a place that is grinding you to powder. If you have experienced the loss of a friend or a family member. If your health is failing.
There are times when it’s going to be difficult, but beyond your reach. And so don’t beat yourself up. Just bring the way you are now to the Lord and say, okay, I’m needing a re-fill here of joy. So teach me how to rejoice again.
Psalm 51, one of the greatest psalms ever – has David praying,
Restore to me the joy of your salvation.
And so there is a good place to start. Stand alongside David and ask God for a restoration of a joyful heart.
Now – let me finish this sermon here with some quick hitter ideas – remember Mr. Miaggi from the Karate Kid? He did this thing where he rubbed his hands together very seriously and then kind of cracked bones back into place or something?
Well sometimes I think our soul sometimes gets a little out of whack and we need to Mr. Miaggi it back into place a bit. Realign our soul so it can begin the healing process.
So here’s a few quick hitter ideas – maybe one will resonate as a good idea for you.
Buy yourself a new worship album. Phil 4:4 is a command from Paul to rejoice in the Lord. Again I say, rejoice! So maybe I buy some new worship albums. I like a guy named Matt Maher – Alive Again is a great album. Buy something that you can sing along to in the car or shower or wherever to get yourself used to the idea of worshipping and rejoicing.
Here’s another joy builder. Do something for someone else. Serve someone. Go home and bake some cookies and bring them to a neighbor. They don’t have to be awesome or fancy. Just do something nice for someone. Write a thank you note to the person ringing the bell in front of the store for the Salvation Army. Maybe stick a gift card for $5 in there for the person – buy yourself something perty. Why would I do that? It’ll make them laugh I think. Put a smile on their face.
Find a place to serve in the church or the city so your gifts are contributing to the wellfare of others. Right? Get active. Do something for someone else. Do something that will get you out of the navel gazing that often accompanies joylessness.
Maybe today find 15 minutes, where you sit down and write out everything that you are thankful for. Because often joylessness goes hand in hand with thanklessness. So recharge your thanker. How many things can you write down in 15 minutes? Make yourself a cup of your favorite tea and sit down – set the timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off thank the Lord for what’s on the list. Maybe tape it on your frig or something.
Maybe call an old friend today – Don’t complain with them about anything. Maybe share a memory that you have that is a particularly fond memory and say – I was thinking about this today and thought I’d give you a call.
Compliment someone today. Call your kids or your mom and dad with one specific thing you admire about them. Be specific.
These are all kind of quick hitting kickstarters – to get your soul re-aligned so it can start receiving joy again. Mr Miaggi your soul a little bit and get it realigned so joy can start flowing again.
Read the book of Philippians but read it from The Message. If you go to a website like this you can read it for free. The Message is a great paraphrase that brings so much of the letter back to life for us. Remember that Paul is in prison and he is writing his friends about Jesus.
It’s Christmas week. And it’s truly a season of Joy to the World. The Lord has come. May you be filled with joy this Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.