The Gifts of Christmas Part 2
The Gift of Joy
The Gift of Joy
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
As we approach Christmas, we often hear about joy and what a joyful season it is, so we try to cram all the other feelings of life down inside. If we don’t feel joyful, we try hard to create joy by tossing our troubles aside, ignoring our deepest struggles, and just living for the moment.
But that’s not what the joy of Christmas is all about. And while it may be nice for a moment, it is shallow and short-lived.
The gift of joy offered to us in Jesus this Advent season is one of deep and abiding joy. It is a joy so powerful it can hold its own in a dark and hurting world—and in the midst of all our troubles and struggles.
We will talk a little bit later about how we experience joy through this season, but for now, I encourage you to come in a spirit of honesty. You don’t have to cast aside your worries to unwrap this gift of joy, which Peter called inexpressible and glorious:
8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
We hear much about joy during this season, but I wonder how many truly experience this great joy of which Peter speaks?
I believe many are experiencing surface joy, but not the deep-seated joy we can have in Christ.
The holidays are a time when the suicide rates go up. People lose hope. And they lack the joy Peter is talking about.
Last week we talked about hope.
Today, we are opening the gift of joy.
This is a season to experience the joy of the coming of the Savior of the world.
It’s more than just a feeling; it is a joy that causes all of creation to celebrate. It’s deep and powerful, the kind of reJOYcing—see where that word comes from?—talked about in the Psalms, such as Psalm 96:11–13:
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; 12 Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord. 13 For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth.
We are preparing and expecting. Jesus is coming! Let us rejoice! This is the gift we unwrap today.
But the question that nags at many of us so often is: What if you just don’t feel joy this season? How can you receive this gift of joy even in the midst of suffering, loneliness, pain, grief, busyness, stress, or boredom?
Let’s look together at how we can anticipate, recognize, and choose joy.
Have you ever been waiting for something for so long that you gave up hope it would ever arrive? Or even just forgotten that it’s on the way? Or maybe even not known it was coming?
You’ve probably heard stories of postal service mistakes and letters delivered years after they were sent. There are some great stories. A woman in her eighties in France received a letter in the mail that had been sent to her great-grandfather . . . in 1877 . . . 138 years earlier! It was about an order of yarn for her great-grandfather’s spinning mill.
But an even more poignant delivery written about in the Washington Post in 2015 reached its intended recipient fourteen years later. The letter was written from a father in India to his son, who lived in New York City. It was handwritten a few short weeks after 9/11 but was a bit confusing when it showed up in 2014.
The man’s father had died years earlier. As he described in the newspaper essay, the man was flooded with a deep reminder and sense of connection to his late father. Tears flooded his eyes as he held a physical object created by his father, expressing concerns about his son’s and grandchildren’s safety and about the events of the world in that tragic time.
In the article, the son wrote, “Fourteen years is a long time to wait for a letter, but rarely has one been more welcome. The expression of concern in the letter is sadly still relevant today. But the physical letter itself was a real joy.”
Certainly an unexpected joy. One that was on its way the whole time. The letter would have been meaningful had it arrived on time, but it took on even deeper emotions over time.
Joy can be that way, whether we know it’s coming or not, whether we’ve given hope for its arrival or not.
Last week we talked about the history of Israel and their waiting for a Messiah for thousands of years. That’s a tough wait.
I’m sure some gave up hope that a Messiah would ever come.
Some probably moved on with their lives not even thinking about it.
But others held out hope. Their waiting was active.
And when we engage in an active waiting, anticipating what is to come and watching for it, the waiting has purpose. Hope stays alive.
Joy is similar. Even when we don’t feel joy right now, we can anticipate the coming of joy to the world in the gift of Jesus. We can prepare to move from our state of discouragement or oblivion into an experience of life-giving joy.
The shepherds in the Christmas story are a good example. When the angels showed up and delivered a message to the shepherds on a hillside outside Bethlehem, the shepherds didn’t immediately feel joy—they felt scared! Luke told us,
10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
The angel first addressed their fear, then helped them move beyond it to receive the message of joy that the Savior, the Messiah, the one Israel had anticipated and waited for so long, had been born. By the end of the night, those shepherds got it. Luke said they...
20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
As we walk through this season, we know what’s coming. We know that Christ, the Messiah has come. This we can celebrate and rejoice over.
We know there is more to come with His eventual return.
Spend time this season growing closer to Him in our quiet times with Him. Let’s deepen our love for Him. And we will be able, like Peter, to “rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
Anticipate joy even when we struggle with the realities of today.
Do you ever wonder why, out of all the people in the world, the wise men were the only ones who recognized and followed the star of Bethlehem?
It was a star—it was there in the sky for the whole world to see. But most people, Jews and Gentiles alike, didn’t recognize its meaning. For these men who did, it caused great joy. Matthew 2:10–11 says,
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The Magi traveled a long way to find the one whose birth was announced by the star. They encountered hardships along the way. They had to deal with the deceptive tyrant King Herod.
They even lost sight of the star for some time. But they knew what they were looking for, and they kept seeking even when things went wrong. They recognized the arrival of joy in the world, and they were filled with joy as they responded to it, bringing their gifts in worship to Jesus.
It can be hard to recognize joy in our lives sometimes, especially because it doesn’t always look the way we expect it to. We expect joy to be free of worry and hardship, but the Bible tells us that joy is found in the midst of, and even because of, hard things. James 1:2–3 says,
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
There most definitely is nothing “hakuna matata” about that brand of joy. You know, the no worrries kind?
But how much richer and deeper is the experience of joy when it sustains us in the midst of darkness.
When we recognize that joy comes from trials—because they produce perseverance that makes us into the people God wants us to be—then we can experience joy even in the midst of hard times.
Anticipate joy. Recognize joy we have available in Christ. And lastly,
The idea that we can choose joy is a little deceiving. We can’t just close our eyes and focus really hard and somehow conjure up joy. In fact, that often leads us away from joy.
Joy is a gift. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. So we can’t just create it by trying harder—but we can choose to live in the ways that God says bring joy.
The concept is similar to physical health. We can’t get stronger by thinking about and mentally choosing to be stronger. We have to exercise and build the muscles that make us stronger.
While we can’t just concentrate hard and choose joy, we can choose to give thanks. We can choose to obey. And we can choose to abide. When we do these things, we open ourselves to the gift of joy.
Let’s look a little closer at those practices.
Choose Gratitude: Try it. When you don’t feel joyful, give thanks. Try it out loud, naming three reasons you have to be thankful—or five or ten. Or write them all down. You’ll be surprised how long your list actually gets pretty quickly.
It’s counterintuitive—when we don’t feel joyful, we would rather gripe and complain, but giving thanks opens our hearts to joy. That’s why Paul instructed the Thessalonians,
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Gratitude goes a long way, and it leads us toward joy. When you don’t know what to do, when you feel overwhelmed by the season, when you feel anything but joy, give thanks.
Choose to Obey: In John 15:11 Jesus said,
11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
So what did He tell His disciples? What was that secret to joy? Obedience. In John 15:10 He told His followers to obey His commands. We often want joy to just appear from out of nowhere, but Jesus said it comes from obedience.
Like gratitude, obedience is a practice. It’s a process of seeking to follow God’s ways and to put them into action.
We don’t always get them right. But the more we align ourselves with God’s Word to understand His ways and then choose actions that align with His Word and His wisdom, the more we open ourselves to experience the good fruit of those choices—and the more we prepare ourselves to encounter and receive His joy.
Choose to Abide: John 15 also tells us the second part to the secret of joy—and it’s a love triangle! Jesus said that just as He remains in His Father’s love, we remain in His love, and our joy is complete.
This is not an immediate, quick-satisfaction concept.
It’s the idea of continual love and relationship with Jesus that brings the gift of joy into our lives.
Jesus used the metaphor of a vine in the John 15 passage because He was describing a process of ongoing growth and nourishment that produces good fruit.
The same is true in our relationship with Him, and our joy is made complete by imitating Christ’s love and obedience.
Let this season of Advent be a time of gratitude, obedience, and abiding in His love as we anticipate the joy He brings this Christmas.