Joy to the World
Joshua J. Masters |
The joy of Christmas, which is the joy of the Spirit, overcomes our broken dreams, difficult journeys and unchanging circumstances. But how do we grab hold of that joy?
Experiencing Christmas • Message 2
Joy to the World
Joshua J. Masters
December 13, 2020
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:8-11 (KJV)
And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
This morning we’ll continue in our series, Experiencing Christmas.
And today we’ll focus on the joy of Christmas.
In the NLT, the angel said, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”
How many of us have experienced great joy in the last 8 or 9 months?
There’s been a world-wide pandemic,
But the struggles of this year haven’t been some distant story on a television screen, have they? It’s affected us… personally, both individually and as a church.
And for some of us, the losses have been devastating.
And now, it’s Christmas time. And this year isn’t going to look like other Christmases is it?
--Some of us have decades-old family traditions that simply can’t happen this year.
--Others are facing their first Christmas separated from loved ones.
All that is very real. And I know many people are asking, “Where is this ‘Great Joy’ the angel talked about because I can’t find it.”
In fact, let’s acknowledge that even in the best of years, Christmas is a very difficult time for some people.
So, this won’t be a message that tries to prop up joy as an emotion we should embrace for the holidays.
In fact, I think it dishonors the joy Christ came to give us if we don’t acknowledge how difficult life can be.
Yet the New Testament uses the word “joy” or “rejoice” over 130 times to describe what the life of a believer should look like, even in adversity. So why do we struggle to find it?
Here’s one of the reasons.
We have a tendency to confuse the words “happy” and “joy.” But they don’t mean the same thing at all.
Happiness is external.
It’s based on our circumstances.
Joy is internal
and overcomes our circumstances.
Happiness is a feeling.
Joy is a state of being.
But in this year of disappointment and suffering, how do we find it?
How do we really experience joy—
instead of putting on the same old emotional mask and faking it for the people around us?
That’s a fair question.
So, what I want to do this morning is walk through the Christmas story with fresh eyes, because we tend to white-wash the lives of those we meet in the Christmas narrative.
We view the shepherds and Mary and everyone else with an internal Instagram filter that makes their lives look softer and more appealing.
But they faced brokenness, fear, and uncertainty just like we do—yet, despite their circumstances, most of them encountered that joy we’re so desperate to find.
So first, we’ll look at some of the circumstances THEY were facing when they found joy.
And once we explore THEIR difficult circumstances, then we’ll finish up by discussing how we can discover, and grab hold of that joy in ours.
B. JOY OVERCOMES...
First, let’s look at what Mary’s life teaches us about joy.
B. Experiencing true joy overcomes…
1. Unfulfilled DREAMS. (The Joy of Mary)
… God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings [REJOICE], favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 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! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name Him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David. And He will reign over Israel forever; His Kingdom will never end!”
Luke 1:26–33 (NLT)
That’s amazing right? But take Mary off your shelf for a minute.
She’s not a porcelain figurine.
She’s a human being just like you and me.
Yes, the message Gabriel is bringing means the promises of God to Adam, and Abraham, and David are about to be fulfilled. The Messiah is coming… Hope is coming. This will bring joy to the world… but in the moment, what does this mean for Mary?
When the angel says, “Rejoice, favored woman!” He’s telling her to be filled with joy… But think about this, his words are also telling Mary, “Forget every dream you had for your life. Whatever you planned or hoped for isn’t going to happen. All of that is over.”
She was about to marry Joseph. Just like us, I suspect she had dreams for what she thought her life would look like. Those dreams are going to go unfulfilled.
And it’s easy for us reading these two chapters in the book of Luke to say, “Yes, but she gets the blessing of being the mother of the savior.”
And that’s true. But do you think that calling was an easy, dream-filled mission?
Before the angel’s visit…
Do you think Mary’s dreams included telling her fiancé she was pregnant?
--Do you think they included her baby’s first night being spent in an animal trough?
--Or fleeing to another country because someone was trying to kill her baby?
--Or her husband dying early?
--Do you think her dreams included watching her son be tortured and murdered in front of her eyes?
Mary’s life was not marked with the peace-filled serenity we see in statues.
Yet the angel says, “Rejoice, Mary! You are highly favored.”
And Mary knew how hard this was going to be from the beginning. Right after Jesus is born, a prophet filled with the Holy Spirit tells Joseph and Mary what their life is going to be like.
Luke Chapter 2:
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose Him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
Luke 2:34–35 (NLT)
Who wants a prophecy that says your child will face constant rejection and your very soul with pierced with a sword? They knew who Jesus was and that they were going to experience a painful life.
Now, I’m going to say something some of you aren’t going to like. But I have to get it off my chest.
That song you all love, “Mary, Did You Know?”
Guess what, she was aware.
Mary knew. And the plans she had for her life were completely turned upside down… and even as the angel spoke to her, Mary knew that all HER dreams were coming to an end. Yet how did she respond?
Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
Luke 1:38a (NLT)
And a little further down, she sings a song of joy! She sings:
… “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.
Luke 1:46–48 (NLT)
Don’t miss this:
Mary experienced joy in hardship because she was focused on the promises of the Messiah, instead of her earthly circumstances. <REPEAT>
When we experience the joy of Christ, we gain the ability to surrender our dreams for His will.
And we might say, “Sure. If God gave me a sign and wanted to use me for something as important as Mary, I’d give up my dreams for THAT.”
Listen, God has a purpose for your life. There’s probably signs all around you—obvious ones, but until we’re willing to have our lives and our own plans interrupted, we’ll invent ways to deny what God is saying to us. That would be true even if God sent an angel.
I think, deep down, many of us know exactly what God is calling us to do.
It might be adopting a child.
It might be giving up an unhealthy relationship.
..or restoring one you don’t want to.
It might be sacrificially giving to others in need.
God might be stirring something in your heart right now… And those things are only the first step in something much GREATER He wants to do in your life.
But first, we must accept that His plan is greater than our dreams.
And we can only do that when we learn to live in the joy of Christ.
Mary’s story teaches us that true joy overcomes unfulfilled dreams.
What about the Magi? From their story we learn that joy overcomes uncertain journeys.
Experiencing true joy overcomes…
2. Uncertain JOURNEYS. (The Joy of the Magi)
As some of you know, The Magi (or the wise men) were not actually at the birth of Christ. They arrived much later. In fact, they probably arrived when Jesus was about 2 years old.
Now, you don’t have to throw away the wise men in your nativity set—just set them up on the other side of the room like they’re on their way.
The Magi (which in the Greek actually means magicians, not wise men), were wealthy, pagan astrologers from the East.
We don’t have time to read their entire story but look what happens after the meet King Herod…
... And the star [the Magi] had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!
Matthew 2:9b–10 (NLT)
They see the star and they’re filled with joy.
But here’s what’s strange: this is after their encounter with Herod in Jerusalem.
--Which means, they had seen and started following the direction of this star months—maybe years ago.
--So, why are they filled with joy now when they see the star again?
The text doesn’t say specifically, but this is what I think—so you can take it or leave it.
What was this star? People have guessed a comet or a super-nova, but I don’t think so.
The star appeared in the sky when they left home, right? But the distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is only about 10 miles. When you look at the night sky, can you tell which house a star is over? Of course not.
No, this supernatural event had to be much closer to stop directly over the house where Jesus was.
And to me (and some actual scholars), that sounds a lot like the same pillar of fire that guided the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 13:21-22). A visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit, Himself. What the Jewish Rabbis call the Shekinah Glory
I think the Magi were filled with joy because the Holy Spirit drew close to them and they began to experience who God was even before they reached the baby.
And remember what they’d been through to get to this final leg of the voyage.
We only think of the distance they traveled as being from a box on the floor to our mantle.
But this was a long, difficult, uncertain journey.
Did the Magi know where they were going when they left the Far East—did they know the details of their journey they were embarking on before leaving for a trip that would take them years to complete? No.
They may have had a sense that they were heading toward Israel because they were looking for the Jewish King, but they relied on the star to tell them when to leave and where to go.
They CHOSE an uncertain journey.
The Magi were willing to go on a difficult journey if it meant being closer to the King.
Is being closer to Christ worth a difficult journey in your life?
Their path would have been dangerous (even with the large entourage they probably had with them) and they didn’t know what they’d encounter…
They certainly didn’t expect to travel for months over unforgiving terrain only to show up in Jerusalem and discover no one knew what they were talking about.
And after their confusing encounter with Herod, they certainly didn’t know where in Bethlehem to find Jesus or what they’d find when they got there.
They had to completely rely on the guide they were given. They had to follow the star of the Holy Spirit.
So, here’s the question for us:
Are we putting our faith in the journey itself or in the One guiding us on the journey?
Because if our focus is on the guide instead of the path,
Then we not only have joy that overcomes:
Unfulfilled Dreams and
But that same joy will also overcome:
That’s what we learn from the shepherds.
Experiencing true joy overcomes…
3. Unchanging CIRCUMSTANCES. (The Joy of the Shepherds)
Earlier we read how the angel proclaimed good tidings of great joy to the shepherds.
Some scholars believe (based on how close they were to Bethlehem and the prophesy of Micah 4:8) that these shepherds oversaw the raising of sacrificial lambs for the temple. And if so, how appropriate that they would be the first to witness the Lamb of God.
Unlike the wise men, we know the shepherds found Jesus the night He was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And they worshiped Him.
After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. [They’re sharing the good news and great joy, right?] All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, ... The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
Luke 2:17–18, 20 (NLT)
They went back to their flocks… glorifying and praising God.
The shepherds didn’t go on a difficult journey like the Magi…
Their life was a difficult journey.
Their circumstances were a difficult journey.
They would have been excluded from all religious events or festivities, and shepherds were considered the very dregs of society. They were outsiders.
Even if they WERE the shepherds tending the sacrificial lambs, they still would have been looked down upon and scorned by religious leaders—and most of the people in Israel.
Their work was hard, unending, and unappreciated.
Maybe you feel like your work is unending and unappreciated.
But If you’re working for the glory of God. If you’re working with the joy of Christ… no matter what you’re doing, and even if no one else sees it, God sees it (Matthew 6:1-4).
If you feel unappreciated or unloved today, God sees you.
That doesn’t always mean God will change our circumstances, though, because He’s more interested in changing our hearts.
After the shepherds worshipped the Messiah,
-God didn’t make them kings.
-He didn’t make them rich or
-give them their dream jobs.
-He gave them something more important… joy.
They went back to the same fields to do the same job, but they went glorifying and praising God.
God didn’t change the shepherd’s circumstances. He changed their perspective in the circumstances. <REPEAT>
Experiencing the joy of Christ overcomes our unfulfilled dreams,
guides us in uncertain journeys,
and makes us content in unchanging circumstances.
But as we’ve already said this morning, this year has been filled with sadness, sorrow, and insecurity for a lot of people.
So, how do we grab hold of this joy?
How do experience the joy of Christmas?
How do we discover it in our own lives?
C. DISCOVERING THE JOY OF CHRISTMAS
To answer that question, I want to quickly look at two more people in the Christmas story.
>>> First, I think it’s important to acknowledge the one thing that prevents us from experiencing the joy of Christ.
But it’s a difficult truth.
Who is the one person in the Christmas story who doesn’t experience joy?
When Herod heard the good tidings of great joy, he didn’t experience joy at all, did he?
Where everyone else rejoiced, Herod was disturbed and furious (Matthew 2:3, 16).
So, why wasn’t Herod joyful that the Messiah had come?
>> It threatened his place on the throne.
Experiencing the joy of Christ overcomes our…
But what it doesn’t penetrate is this…
Unyielding Pride. <PRODUCTION NOTE: Please don’t put this one up until I call for it>
Herod didn’t want to lose his place on the throne.
And that’s the primary reason we miss the joy of Christ in our own lives. It threatens the reign we THINK we have over our lives.
Now, you have to be very careful not to build your theology around Christian song lyrics, because some of them are way off biblically.
But I think Isaac Watts got it right when he penned Joy to the World.
Joy to the world!
The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room…
-Isaac Watts, Joy to the World, 1719.
We experience joy, not when our circumstances change,
But when we receive our King.
When our hearts prepare Him room…
Are you willing to step off the throne?
That’s the first step, but THEN what?
Just CHOOSE JOY!
We’ve seen that, right?!
On Christmas cards, Instagram memes, decorative signs.
It’s a beautiful sentiment… but it’s terrible advice.
Because if you try to choose joy in the midst of difficult circumstances and broken dreams, you know what will happen? You’ll fail… and then you’ll not only be carrying the burden of your circumstances, but you’ll FEEL like a failure as a Christian.
Love is a choice…
happiness might even be a choice.
But true joy can’t be manufactured. It’s a gift.
Let me show you.
Last person in our story.
In the Christmas narrative, what does Mary do between her encounter with the angel and her journey to Bethlehem?
She goes to visit Elizabeth…
And Elizabeth is pregnant with? John the Baptist.
Back to Luke 1:
A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.
Luke 1:39–44 (NLT)
The moment Mary spoke, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy.
Don’t miss how incredible that moment is.
We often say how significant it is that lowly shepherds were the first to worship Christ. They were the first after He was born. But the FIRST person to worship Jesus as the Messiah wasn’t the shepherds. It was an unborn baby… even while Jesus, Himself was still in Mary’s womb.
But John didn’t CHOOSE to be joyful in his mother’s womb.
He was filled with the Holy Spirit and recognized the Messiah. THAT filled him with joy.
See, Joy is not a matter of trying harder. Joy is a matter of how close we are to Jesus Christ. <REPEAT>
Look at Galatians 5:22:
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22–23a (NLT)
Listen very carefully:
You don’t choose joy. Joy chooses you through the Holy Spirit.
Our part is to remove the obstacles we’ve created that prevent us from experiencing that joy.
(Come to CR, Get TPM, Support groups)
As we step off our throne,
draw closer to Christ,
find healing for our past hurts,
and allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, joy is something that’s naturally produced in our character.
Don’t try to choose joy.
Choose the One who produces joy.
Don’t try to pursue joy.
Pursue the One who causes you to rejoice.
Experience who Christ is!
Regardless of their circumstances, everyone we’ve met in the Christmas story (except Herod) encountered the Spirit and experienced the true nature of Christ.
--Mary had joy… not because of her circumstances, but because of who He is.
--The Magi had joy… not because of their journey, but because of who He is.
--The shepherds had joy… not because of their stations in life, but because of who He is.
If we find it impossible to experience joy, it can only be because we haven’t experienced who He is… or we’ve allowed circumstances to make us forget.
In the Old Testament, the word joy is primarily used to describe victory over one’s enemies.
But in the New Testament, it’s used almost exclusively to describe Christ’s victory in our lives over death and sin.
If we want to experience true joy, we need to stop measuring it by our own victories and start rooting ourselves in the victory of Jesus Christ!
But you might say, “Josh, you don’t know what I’ve been through. You don’t know what I’ve lost this year.”
You’re right. I don’t. But I do know this:
The angel didn’t come to proclaim joy for the happy, but to proclaim an unspeakable joy for the hurting.
Listen to this quote:
“If there weren’t pain, suffering, sin, destruction, discouragement, and death, there would be no need for Christmas. This holiday is about suffering. This holiday is about pain.”
-Dr. Paul David Tripp, Surviving the Holidays
Jesus didn’t come so we could find joy in the perfect family Christmas.
He came to bring hope and joy to a world that had no answer for their suffering.
If you’re struggle is overwhelming,
Christmas is for you.
If your dreams have been crushed,
Christmas is for you.
If your journey is uncertain,
Christmas is for you.
And if your circumstances seem unbearable,
Christmas is for you.
It’s for the brokenhearted, and the lonely, and the rejected.
Because the joy of Christmas isn’t a feeling.
The joy of Christmas is the sacrificial Lamb of God who came to defeat the sin and death that caused all that suffering... and reunite us with a God who loves us.
This promise of joy is for you. And it’s personal.
… I bring you good tidings of great joy ... For unto YOU [add names] is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10b-11 (KJV)