Joy To The World
Probably one of the greatest discoveries we make in life is that not everyone does things the same way. And for many of us it comes as a shock, because what we consider our normal way of doing things is the right way and everyone else is doing them wrong. We most often discover this when we first get married and start setting up our new home.
Where do we put the glasses in the cabinet, where does the dog sleep, who is responsible for making sure the bills are paid, who cooks and what do they cook, do we iron clothes before they go on the hangers or do we iron every night? There are a thousand different little things that you do in your house that are different from other folks. And you never really notice it until those things begin to crash into one another.
For Trista and I the first real clash happened on our first Christmas together. I was working for a congregation as a youth minister and one of our students gave us a Christmas gift. I opened the gift and discovered a beautiful crystal nativity scene. I was overjoyed and went home to place the gift on the mantle over our fireplace. Let’s just say that Trista did not share my enthusiasm.
My dad was raised in a catholic home and the Birth of Christ was a prominent part of our Christmas Celebrations. So every Christmas our family would celebrate both sides of the season. We looked forward to a big man in a red suit breaking into our home and leaving wonderful presents for me and coal and switches for my brother. On Christmas eve we would hear my parents read the Night before Christmas and then we would talk about the birth of the Savior Child. As a young boy it didn’t matter whether He was born on December 25th or July 4th we just celebrated that night in the manger where the Angels sang in the heavens Glory to God in the Highest. For me that’s what normal looked like.
Trista on the other hand was raised in a very legalistic small town church and normal for them was very different. They knew that the Bible said the shepherds were out with their flocks and they believed that it had to be in the spring or summer when Jesus was born. And since the Bible doesn’t say when Jesus was born they felt it was best to talk about the birth of Christ in July and His death in December, and the twain never mixed. For her that’s what normal looked like.
I am not sure what your normal looks like. Maybe you are one of those folks who put your Christmas tree up 3 weeks before Halloween or maybe you plan on doing that on December 23rd. Maybe you secretly listen to Christmas Music all year long, or maybe the thought of hearing The Little Drummer Boy makes your head Pa rum pum pum pum and every time you hear Mary Did You Know, you yell of course she knew, there those angels and everything else. Like I said, with this many folks here I am sure that we have different traditions and ways of celebrating Christmas.
But what I want us to do over the five weeks of December is to look at some hymns that sadly have been relegated to a certain time of the year, July or December depending on your tradition. I hope that we will be able to sing these beautiful songs together and then spend some time talking about what they mean to us as believers. Because I believe that the words that we sing in these songs can and should impact us all year long.
This morning we began with the beautiful words that Isaac Watts took from Psalm 98. Joy to the World, The Lord has come. I love the fact that we are called to have Joy.
I read this week that Robert Louis Stevenson once entered in his diary what he considered to be an extraordinary thing. He said, “I have been to Church today, and surprisingly I am not depressed.” Can you identify with that? I can, and the sad part is that joy is an evidence of the presence of God in your life. Paul says that if you have the Spirit living in your then it will produce the fruit of joy. So gathering with other spirit filled people to worship God should be the most exciting part of our day, and week.
I have said numerous times from this pulpit that we who wear the name of Christ should be the happiest folks we know. But maybe I am selling that a bit short, because it is easy for us to mistake happiness for joy. Our happiness depends upon what happens to you, if all the circumstances are right, then you can be happy. But Joy is different. Let’s see if we can unpack what I mean.
In Acts 16 a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future met Paul and Barnabas. This girl followed them, shouting, These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved. Finally Paul became so frustrated that he turned around and said, In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her! At that moment the spirit left her.
When the owners of the slave girl realized that their moneymaker was gone, they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They accused them saying, These men are throwing our city into an uproar. The judges ordered Paul and Silas to be stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison. The jailer put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
There is not a lot to be happy about in this story, it’s not a happy serve Jesus and He will give you wealth and prosperity type of story. But do you know what Paul and Silas started doing while they were chained to the floor of that prison? Verse 25 says that about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God.
None of us would believe that Paul and Barnabas were happy about their present circumstances. Beaten black and blue and being chained to a jail floor kind of takes the happiness out of any party. But they were singing and praising God because they were filled with joy that comes from the inside.
I believe that we want to sing HAPPY to the world the Lord has come. But happiness is a fleeting feeling. Happiness is cheep and joy is priceless. Happy is because things happen and joy is because God is. Joy is holding your new born child, Happiness is when someone else is holding that child when it’s time to change a dirty diaper.
I believe that when our Lord came to this earth, we received two reasons to find great joy. And those reasons exist regardless of what is going on around us.
The first reason we have Joy is because we have experienced a great deliverance.
Too many of us, the ones who were at church before we were 7 days old, have trouble finding joy in our deliverance because we are not really sure what we have done to get in to trouble in the first place. As long as we can remember we have been good people, and we are blind to the sin in our lives.
We are like the guy who asked his boss at quitting time if he had any extra work he could do. His boss said that he was sure that he could find something but he wasn’t able to pay him for overtime. That’s okay, the man said, I just don’t want to go home. His boss asked him if there was trouble at home and the man replied, Well, I’ve been in the doghouse since last night. I still don’t know why I guess it’s one of those woman things. Last night I was minding my own business relaxing in front of the TV when my wife comes in and asks, What’s on the TV? And all I said was, Dust! She’s been mad ever since, and I don’t know why!
Whether we recognize it or not, the Bible is pretty clear that we have made a mess of our lives. Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that everyone of us have sinned, everyone of us is guilty. But I wonder if we have heard that so many times that we have become kind of numb to it. It’s just another one of those verses that we read but it has lost it’s convicting power.
And because we are no longer convicted by what we have done, we have started playing the better than game. We look around and gauge our worth and standing with God based on other people. We think, God must love me because I have never been drunk like her. God must love me because I have never been divorced like him. God must think I’m great because I have never been in jail, or had my name associated with a scandal. But we forget that in Revelation 21 that God associates murders with liars, the faithless with the fearful. And we forget that sin demands death. That’s the wage; eternal death is what you deserve for the way that you have lived your life.
But as we are reminded in our song this morning that because our Lord has come, we have joy. Paul writes in Romans 5:8 that while we were sinners, God loved us. While we were sinners God sent Jesus into this world as a baby to live a life of sacrifice, to humble Himself to God’s will, and grow in wisdom and knowledge. Jesus came to us as a baby and grew up to a man that was the perfect sacrifice for our sinfulness. Not because we were smart enough, not because we were living in the right country, not because we are the right color, not because we speak the right language, not because we vote the right way. But because He loved us.
Now to me this is the greatest part of this type of joy, we have not only been delivered because God fixed what was broken. We are delivered because God has made us new. David prays in Psalm 51 Create in me a clean heart. Don’t clean my heart God, give me a brand new heart, create a new one and let me start all over. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 If anyone belongs to Christ, there is a new creation. The old things have gone; everything is made new! We are not refurbished, or renovated, or overhauled; our deliverance bring newness. New Life, New Hope, New Possibilities, because of our Savior we have been delivered!
We have been delivered from a mouth that spreads Gossip, tells off-color jokes, and curses man. We deserve hell for that but Christ has delivered us.
We have been delivered from our insecurities that causes us to think higher of ourselves than we should, and go out of our way to belittle our spouse, children, friends, parents, co-workers, and boss. We deserve hell for that but Christ has delivered us.
We have been delivered from our selfishness that causes us to cheat on our spouse, take things that don’t belong to us, place our family in debt as we try to keep up with the Joneses, or withhold our tithe from God. We deserve hell for that but Christ has delivered us.
We have been delivered. If that doesn’t bring great joy into your heart, then I don’t know what would. God’s Word says that when Jesus is our Lord and Savior then we have been delivered from the bondage of sin and have the gift of everlasting life.
The second reason we have joy is O?κ?α. (Pronounced oi-k?'-ä)
I know that’s one of those greek words, and you don’t speak Greek, but I love that word, it’s the word for home that we find in John 14:1-3 Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house (O?κ?α ) are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
We are not just going to some home, we are going to God’s house. You are not invited to the country that God lives in, or the state, or the city where you hope to catch a glimpse of Him every 10,000 years or so. Because Jesus was born we can find joy in the fact that God has invited us to come home with Him. Maybe the reason that we don’t have enough joy in our lives is because we don’t think enough about going home.
I have stood in the funeral homes, and the grave sides of men, women, and children that I loved deeply. I have shed more than my fair amount of tears, and my soul has groaned in ways that I cannot even begin to explain. And unfortunately if God gives me more time on this earth, I will have to stand in those very places again. I know that you understand those feelings, I have even stood beside some of you as your soul cried out in anguish. But I believe that we have allowed the feeling of loss in this world to take away the joy of going home in the next. And I fear that our lack of passion for heaven, is connected to our weak and distorted theology of heaven.
Jesus said He is going to prepare an O?κ?α, a place in the Fathers house with Him. The same God that created all of the beauty we can see in 6 days has spent the last 2000 years getting our home with God ready. Can you even imagine how beautiful it is going to be? I mean it’s beyond imagination. The same God that painted the butterfly’s wings, thought up sunrises and sunsets, and even put the green in a mallard duck is preparing your home with Him. It’s like a friend of mine who was looking at the stars with his daughter one night. His little girl said to him; "Dad, if the wrong side of heaven is this beautiful, what does the right side look like?"
And it’s not just what we can see. Think about the fact that our desire for pleasure and the experience of joy come directly from God’s hand. He made our taste buds, dopamine and adrenaline, and the nerve endings that convey pleasure to our brains. And, our imaginations and our capacity for joy and exhilaration where made by the one who is inviting us home.
I laugh at people who think that they are fun-loving, and the God they serve is a humorless killjoy. There is no way that God is boring; we are! He invented wit, humor, and laughter, there is no way we will ever begin to exhaust God’s sense of humor and His love for adventure.
And the greatest thing about Heaven is we will see God. Being with God is the heart and soul of Heaven. Every other heavenly pleasure will be secondary to Him. God’s greatest gift to us is, and always will be, Himself!
There will be no higher privilege, no greater thrill than seeing God and going home with Him. All our explorations and adventures and projects on this earth pale in comparison to just seeing His face, and that’s just the beginning.
John Donne said, “No man ever saw God and lived. And yet, I shall not live till I see God.”
And Randy Alcorn writes, “The day I die will be the best day I’ve ever lived.”
We have joy because the one who created joy offers us deliverance and the chance to live at home with Him.