Children’s Time not recorded in sermon audio:
What is something that makes you happy (take answers)?
Today is the day when we celebrate joy! But did you know that joy is not the same thing as being happy? Sometimes we are not happy. Sometimes we are sad. And that’s okay. Jesus was sad sometimes, too. Do you know that one of Jesus’ best friends died while Jesus was here on earth? He died and Jesus was so sad that someone close to him died that he cried. It’s okay to be sad sometimes.
And sometimes we get angry. Maybe someone does something really mean on the playground or someone hurts us. It’s okay to be angry about that, too. Jesus also got angry sometimes. But Jesus used his anger to make good things happen. To change the world in positive ways and we want to do that, too. To use our anger in good ways instead of destructive ways.
But today we are learning about joy. And you can have joy even if you are sad or mad or whatever emotion you are feeling, you can have joy. Joy is about recognizing that even when bad things happen. Even when we are sad or upset, God is still good. God loves us and has good things planed for each one of us. God loves you and has a good plan for you (if small group say to each child individually).
And even when things seem really bad, we can trust that God is bigger than even all that stuff that makes life sad or angry. And that’s what joy is. It is trust that God is going to take care of us and love us both when we are happy and when we are not. Can we pray together?
Some of us are really happy right now. Some of us are. Our families are doing well. Things are going well at work. We hear Christmas carols on the radio. We are looking around at the beautiful decorations and hearing the sounds of the trombone and other instruments here this morning and we are like: Yeah. This is great. All of my favorite things. Rejoice! Let’s rejoice!
And others of us saw on the list of advent virtues that today we are talking about Joy. Today is a day of celebration. And we thought to ourselves: I don’t think I want to go to church today. I don’t feel like celebrating. I’m simply not happy this year. There is too much sorrow. Too much pain. Too much suffering. I just can’t.
In fact, there are many churches in our area which are having “Blue Christmas” services this week. If you are feeling exhausted and sad and weary this Christmas. If you have recently lost someone, I want to encourage you to seek one of those services out. I can suggest a few if you are curious. December 21st is the longest night of the year for us up here in North America and for many this time of year is a time of great sorrow.
So, how do we understand this day of joy in the midst of advent. Why do we light a pink candle on the advent wreath? What is joy and how can it possibly be one of these virtues we are studying? Isn’t it just an emotion? Some of us just aren’t feeling all that happy, right now, Pastor.
It is important this day that we recognize what joy is and what it is not. There are a lot of misconceptions about what joy is and what it is not so we want to have a strong Biblical understanding of this virtue we are to live into.
Let’s start with what joy is not.
Joy is NOT pretending to be happy all the time.
You know how when you were a little kid and you hated to do that thing. Yeah, you know what it was. That thing. Perhaps it was sitting with your family and having your picture taken. You hated it. You hated wearing that little bow tie or that itchy dress. You didn’t want to sit still. But your mom told you to fake it. She looked at you with that stern angry face and said, “Smile.” And you did. Well, that is not joy.
Joy is not about putting on a mask and pretending to be happy.
The second things joy is NOT is is sort of a sister to that. Joy is NOT denial.
Sometimes we think that when the Bible says: Rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord Always! that the Lord is calling us to pretend like everything is okay when it is not. This is a little different than putting on a mask for the world. It goes deeper than that. It’s about believing a lie ourselves. Sometimes we tell ourselves lies. Instead of looking at the world and seeing it as it really is, we think: Oh, that’s not so bad. These feelings inside me. This hurt. This anger. This sorrow. It will just go away on it’s own. I don’t need to deal with it. I’ll just smile and it will go away. The pastor says rejoice at all times.
But that is not joy. That is misinterpreting Scripture. Joy is not about denial. It is not about ignoring those feeling inside us. When we do that we are just bottling up all that emotion instead of dealing with it. Instead of going to a counselor or burning off the anger at the gym or letting it go in the yoga studio. Whatever way we should be dealing with our emotions, we choose instead to bury them. We deny that we even have them. And we make the mistake of calling this joy. Joy is not denial.
Joy is not a mask. Joy is not denial.
And thirdly, Joy is also not an excuse to ignore the hurts of the world. We don’t just say: yeah, I know there are bad things happening in the world, but I can’t think about that right now. I just need to concentrate on making everyone happy over the holidays. Making people happy is the only thing that matters. No, this is not joy. Ignoring the needs of others will not bring us joy.
Joy is not a mask. Joy is not denial. Joy is not ignoring the needs of others.
And finally, sometimes we confuse joy with wishful thinking. Don’t worry. It’ll be okay. And then we make poor choices. We think. Oh, I know I can’t afford that new thing-ee-ma-gig-ee. It’s not in the budget. But it would be so nice to have. It’ll make everyone so happy. I’ll put it on the credit card and pay for it later.
But it is just wishful thinking. In reality, we will still be paying off that object in May of next year. We will be asking ourselves what on earth we were thinking back at Christmas time. The kids played with the thing-ee-ma-gig-ee for two minutes on Christmas day and it’s been sitting in the corner ever since, and we are still paying for it. This is not joy. Joy is not about wishful thinking.
So, okay: Joy is not a mask we put on for the world. Joy is not denial, lying to ourselves so we will feel better. Joy is not ignoring the needs of others. And joy is not wishful thinking.
So, what is joy?
Joy is really about trust. It goes hand-in-hand with the virtue of hope we were talking about last week. When we have hope we trust that God is good all the time. In the bad times. In the good times. God is good. And we can trust God.
As you might know, the apostle Paul who wrote our New Testament Letter today was writing this letter from jail. He was in jail, on trial for teaching people that Jesus is the one true Lord of all. Paul is probably incarcerated in Rome. We aren’t sure about this. He might be in Ceserea. Paul went to jail several times in his life and it is hard to know for sure when he wrote each letter. Either way, it is bad. If he is in Rome, very shortly he will be put to death for his faith. And yet, Paul writes this letter which calls us to rejoice, to have joy, more times than any other letter he writes.
Paul is writing from jail, about to be martyred, and he speaks of joy again and again. Paul wasn’t in denial. He wasn’t putting on a mask. He wasn’t pretending that things aren’t that bad or wishful thinking that he won’t die. He talks about his possible death in the letter. He explains he is writing from jail. In the midst of one of the worst situations we can imagine, he calls us to rejoice.
I know what you might be thinking: Pastor, that’s Paul. The Apostle Paul was always doing some crazy things.
But it’s not just Paul. Our Old Testament Scripture does it too. Zephaniah is writing in the time of King Josiah. In that time in Ancient Israel, the people are experiencing horrible things. The nation’s leaders have become corrupt. The religious leaders have become corrupt. There is no justice for those who are poor or widows or orphans or strangers. The ones that the Bible makes it clear we are to protect and support are being ignored and mistreated.
And there is pressure from outside as well. The Northern Tribes of Israel have already been destroyed. The people have been carried off. The Northern cities have been decimated. And only Judah, with the southern city of Jerusalem remains.
You can read the whole book of Zephaniah in one sitting. It is only 3 chapters long. You will see that the prophet doesn’t ignore any of this. He doesn’t turn his eyes from the hurts of the world. He doesn’t use our call to joy as an excuse to not care about suffering.
But, in the midst of this horrible situation, he calls us to rejoice: “Sing aloud, O Daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart!”
Clearly, joy was not an emotion brought on by their circumstances.
And joy is not an emotion brought on by our circumstances either.
Many of can relate to the feeling of both internal and external pressure.
Some of us feel deep internal pressure brought on by life’s circumstances. We are mourning a deep loss. Or ailing a terrible sickness. Some of this sickness might be physical. Some might be mental and emotional. We struggle to get out of bed in the morning when it is so dark. When we feel alone. Finding the strength to do anything is just difficult.
Others feel internal pressure from good things. We have new opportunities at work which give us more responsibility. We feel useful and productive. But this work may take us away from our families. We may feel at war within ourselves between the desire to provide for our families and the work we need to do to make that a reality and the time that we want to be with our families. The quality time needed to share love and experiences. They are both needs and good choices but we find a battle within to do it all.
And at the same time we feel external pressure.
We read the news paper or we turn on the evening news and we see that a child came to our border hungry and thirty and in need of care and though we are one of the richest nations in the world, we refused to help. And she died waiting for her turn to ask for asylum. Our hearts break that we are not doing more.
And it’s not just at our nation’s border that we see death and suffering and pain. Right here in our own city. Right here in Baldwin, where my mother grew up, a man learned to hate. A man was taught to hate people who are different than him. To hate them because of their religion and their ethnicity. All that hate bubbled up inside him and he walked into a religious gathering and caused death and destruction. We look at this. We look at the hate in our own city and the injustice in the world and we mourn. We mourn. And cry. And wake up in the middle of the night with so much pent up anger and frustration that we cannot sleep. Or at least, I do.
And it is in to this that we are called to be people of joy.
It is into this that joy breaks in.
Into the suffering and pain and hate, joy breaks in. Into worry and fear and overwork, joy breaks in.
Not as wishful thinking or denial or a mask or blindness.
Joy breaks in because God is with us. Joy breaks in because God is good all the time.
The shepherds are doing their work by night. They are up late, tending to the flock. Feeling the internal pressure to do a good job, to be away from their families. Feeling the external pressure to keep away the bears and lions that threaten the flock.
And as they go about their lives, God breaks in. God sends a legion of angels. The heavens open up and the angels sing out “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among men.” Glory to God in the highest.
Joy is recognizing that God is worthy of our glory. In good times and in bad. God is worthy of glory. God is good all the time. And all the time God is good.
And a crazy thing happens when we give God the glory. A crazy thing happens when we give God glory. Peace. Peace comes upon earth. Just as the angels proclaim. Peace among us. Peace within us.
Or as the Apostle Paul says. “Rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord always. Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearths and minds in Christ Jesus.”
And so today we rejoice. We live in joy. For we know that even in the trials of life God has a good plan for us. Even in the midst of advent, in the midst of the deep purple of the advent candles, we light the pink candle. For there is joy. God is with us in it all. And God is good.
Let us pray.