Advent: Joy

Due to a technical issue the audio for this week’s sermon was not recorded! 

This morning we are including an advent candle into our Christmas series.  And today we light the Rose colored one for Joy.

And I’m sure you are wondering – why the break?  And the deal is that traditionally, the advent is a season of preparing our hearts – of doing some introspection and getting ready for the arrival – and Rose is the color of joy.

And it’s a reminder – that we can be introspective – but let’s remember that this event is a joyous event – it’s like – well Kyle and Rachel are having a baby – and I bet they are going to paint the baby’s room – right?  Maybe pink?  It’s joy!

And so it’s appropriate today to reflect upon and celebrate the joy that is connected to Christmas.  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, 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. 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!

Once I was talking with a person newer to faith and I was in a bible study with them and we were looking at the Christmas story 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 security.  These shepherds show up they just burst into the barn – where’s the baby!  Any barrier that kept these shepherds from meeting Jesus were removed.  Jesus was completely accessible to whoever wanted to be with him.

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 Bible knowledge quiz – no entrance exam – Nothing.

Whether you are a King or a shepherd.  Rich or poor, Jewish or Gentile, man and women, – whether your past is spotless or checkered – Jesus is stunningly available to anyone who desires to be with Jesus.

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, wisdom and compassion.

We come into the Kingdom of God as we are, and what do we find?  We find a kind of kingdom ruled by a loving and good and gracious God, and a Kingdom where Hope, Peace, Joy and Love flow like an overflowing Missouri river.

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 because…   for good reasons.  Let me show you just a few reasons for joy this morning.

  1. Because God is joyful.

When I was a freshman in high school I worked for a deli in New York called the GB 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 clean I got the dishes – they were never clean enough.  Every night I mopped the floors before going home and every night Vinnie would have to look the floor over before I could go home and he’d say – every night – Is-a no good – again, yes?  And I’d have to redo the floors.  Vinnie Giacobbe – there was no pleasing the guy.

I remember one day I remember saying to myself – todays the day.  Never in my life had I scrubbed a floor like that floor of GB Deli.  And when I was done – I brought Vinnie in to look it over and I remember the look on his face – he looked at me and said…  “Eesa no good.  Again!”

Now I bring that up 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 – he will never be pleased.

And that is a faith killer!  Who can be close to a God who is perpetually disappointed in you?  But that’s not the God of the Bible.

Here’s the truth.  The reason Joy is stamped all over the Christmas story is because God is eternally joyful.

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!

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!  Look at that baby!  Look at you – Love it!

Now listen – it might sound like I’m being a little silly, but I’m serious!  It’s very important that we see God as the joyful person he is.  This is a world that is created 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.

Author Dallas Willard writes in his book, the Divine conspiracy, about an experience he has once in South Africa visiting a friend who took him to the beaches.  He writes…

“While I was teaching in South Africa some time ago, a friend took me out to see the beaches near his home in Port Elizabeth. I was totally unprepared for the experience. I had seen beaches, or so I thought. But when we came over the rise where the sea and land opened up to us, I stood in stunned silence and then slowly walked toward the waves. Words cannot capture the view that confronted me. I saw space and light and texture and color and power… that seemed hardly of this earth.

Gradually there crept into my mind the realization that God sees this all the time. He sees it, experiences it, knows it from every possible point of view, 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.

It is perhaps strange to say, but suddenly I was extremely happy for God and thought I had some sense of what an infinitely joyous consciousness he is and of what it might have meant for him to look at his creation and find it “very good.”

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.  Dallas Willard – Divine Conspiracy

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 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 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.

Christmas is stamped with Joy because God is filled with joy.

And of all the things that bring God joy, of all the amazing scenes in the billions of galaxies He created –  Nothing brings God greater joy than when one of us rebel humans makes the decision to surrender our fight against God and enter into the peace that comes from living by grace through faith in Jesus within the right now Kingdom of Heaven.

And this brings us to our second reason for Joy.

  1. 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 turns to God.”

Now – listen – your view of God will greatly dictate whether you have any interest in turning to God at all.  If you view him as an eternal killjoy, a cosmic curmudgeon, a petty policeman, an eternal Ebenezer scrooge, then you will never believe that God rejoices over you.

Yet this is Jesus declaration.  His is filled with joy when a person turns to him.

See – what did it cost God to create the spectacular sights of the billions of galaxies out there?  Perhaps time, and energy and creativity – he is an artist – and it brings him joy to create.  But the reason why it brings God the greatest joy when we turn to him is because it cost him the most!

It cost him his life.  He made it possible to change positions – see Adam and Eve swapped positions – they said to God we’ll take your place, thank you.  And on the cross – Jesus took the penalty of our treason upon himself – he said to us – I’ll take your place, your welcome.

And he did so – not begrudgingly – but willingly and joyfully.  Because of all creation – of all of the art that God has created – he loves you more than anything.

This is an image of Da Vinci’s painting called Salvador Mundi – Savior of the World – it sold for $450 million dollars a couple of years ago.  $450 million for DaVinci’s painting of what he thought Jesus looked like?

Chump change – Couch change compared to the price Jesus paid for you.  And when you were on the market – Jesus leapt at the chance to acquire you – and no price was too high

Christmas is marked by Joy because God is a joyful God, who is most joyful when we turn to him through faith in Jesus – and was willing to pay any price to make it possible.

  1. It is God’s desire to make us joyful people.

This is Jesus speaking in John 15:11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

Now this verse means nothing if we see God as a joyless stick in the mud.  But once we realize that God is overflowing with Joy, then this verse becomes a beautiful and profound promise.

Jesus wants us to be just as joyful.

My wife and I went to see the movie about Mister Rogers last week.  And we liked it enough.  No problems.  But afterward Jody and I talked about how Tom Hanks did portraying Mr. Rogers.  And we felt that Tom Hanks did a fine job.

But to us – the biggest difference was this…  Mr. Rogers – who was by the way a strong follower of Jesus – he had joy.  Natural and easy joy.  And Tom Hanks – was an actor trying to act like he had joy.  And there is just something different – noticeable – about having joy, and acting like you do.

It’s God’s desire that we have true joy.  He doesn’t want us mustering a smile and gritting our way through life.  He wants us to overflow with joy.

Now – just to clarify – and perhaps anticipate an objection or two – I’m not talking about happiness.  Happiness comes and goes – sometimes in the blink of an eye.  Happiness is a mood.

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.

It’s why Jesus was able to endure the cross with joy.  Yes joy.

See – it’s not just Christmas that is marked by joy.  It’s the cross.

Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Joy?  What joy?  The joy of knowing that what he was accomplishing on the cross would make it possible for you and I to be able to be reunited with God with nothing between us.

It’s in this verse that we find the key to knowing how to grow in our joy.  Jo grows as we fix our eyes on Jesus.

And so then the question becomes, what should I do if I’m feeling joyless today?

Here’s three biblical prayers you can pray.  The first thing is of course, that you go to God and make your request known – you can call out God and say  – it was Jesus who said these words – let God know first that you desire to be filled with his kind of joy.

For some – you are going to pray Roman 15:13 – except personalize it.  Change the pronoun.  This is Paul’s prayer for his friends in Rome – but you can make it your own.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Romans 15:13 

Now some of you don’t trust him.  And some of you have tasted the bitterness of life that has shaped your view of God.  And so perhaps that’s where some will have to start – with an honest conversation with God – Lord, Phil is telling me you are loving and good and filled with joy but that’s not the impression I have of you.

And this is a very important part of this – and it’s to include the words – “I’m willing to be wrong.”  I’m willing to re-think my view of you.  And that’s the beginning of a new chapter in your walk with God.  See where that leads you.

Others have made that decision a long time ago to trust Jesus, but the jagged edges of life have worn your faith down – and so you might need to pray this second prayer…  From David –

Psalm 51, one of the greatest psalms ever – has David praying, 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation. 

And I’d suggest meditating – thinking – about not just Christmas but the cross.  And seeing yourself as one of God’s masterpieces – and spend some time thinking about the tremendous price he joyfully paid for you.

And so the last prayer is back to Hebrews 12.  Lord help me to fix my eyes on you.  Not my problems.  Not my frustrations.  Help me to fix my eyes on you this Christmas season – and remember just how far you were willing to go to make it possible for me to walk with you, holding my hand no matter what path you ask me to travel.

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