How do you begin a message on joy? I think the best place to start is with the question, "What is joy not?" When we're talking about joy…when the Bible talks about joy…when we sing about joy…joy to the world…we're not talking about an emotion. Joy isn't an emotion, something that rises or falls depending on our situation or circumstances. Joy isn't an emotion.
Here's a picture of what joy isn't:
That's guy's definitely not joyful. If you're a Grinch you are not joyful.
But be careful not to assume that joy simply means you have to turn that frown upside down. You know the type. Always on…over-hyped happiness. Like this guy:
Who would you rather be? The Grinch or that guy? I'd take Grinch all day long. Authentic grouchiness is better than phony joy.
So what is genuine joy?
We know joy is not an emotion. Joy doesn't ride on the ups and downs of life. Here's something you might want to write down:
JOY MEANS YOU HAVE THE STRENGTH FROM GOD TO FACE ANYTHING.
Joy means you know you are blessed in everything in every way. No matter what the circumstances or situation, God's blessings are still there. Joy means you are less stressed in everything because you know God's love.
Here's something you might want to splice into your emotional/spiritual DNA. Joy doesn't come from what you have. Joy comes from what you know can't be taken from you. That's real joy.
They can take your job from you but they can't take God's purpose from your life. Your health can decline but God's love for you will never diminish. You can lose a relationship but you can never lose your salvation. You can have joy no matter what. You can lose your life but you can never lose God's gift of eternal life. So joy is yours no matter what.
Here's how perfectly simply 1 Thessalonians 5:16 puts it:
Are you there? I'm not very good at memorizing Bible verses. But this one is essential and easy to memorize. Two simple words. "Rejoice always." It literally means "at all times." Not sometimes. Not only when things are going well. Not only when it's convenient. But always. "Even when I can't be home for Christmas?" Yes, always. "Even when this has happened to me?" Yes, always. "Even when people have been hurtful or mean or unkind to me?" Yes, always.
Do you have that kind of joy? How do you have that kind of joy?
The truth is, if you're waiting for perfect circumstances to bring you joy, you're going to wait a long time. Perfect is fleeting, like dust in the wind. Perfect is like a vapor.
So how do you find lasting and resilient joy in an imperfect, often ugly world?
For the rest of this morning, and then finishing up next week, we're going to look at who talked about joy in the Christmas story. The shepherds did. The Wise Men did. A guy named Simeon did. And the good news of great joy is for all of us.
The people in the Christmas story have something to teach us about joy.
The first thing we learn about joy is from the shepherds:
JOY IS HERE.
Have you ever consulted one of those maps with the you are here red dot on it? Sometimes we act like one of those maps is going to have a red dot showing us where to find joy. If we just go over there, then we'll find it. But the you are here red dot reveals something significant. The red dot, you are here, tells us we find joy where we are. That red dot goes where you go. It is your joy shadow. Joy is where you are.
The shepherds discovered that joy was where they were. Here's what Luke 2:8-9 says:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
So the shepherds are out doing what shepherds do. It's night, so there's not much going on. It can be quite boring between sunset and sunrise. You know what I say. Anytime someone says, "I'm bored," or "This is boring," they need to be honest and change it to "I'm boring." Joy shows up in the midst of the seemingly tedious times of life. Why? Because joy is here and it's now. We see it when we look at the shepherds. God shows up in our lives, giving us genuine joy.
Make no mistake. You don't have to go on vacation to find joy. If we think we have to go someplace new and exciting to find joy, we're making a huge mistake, because with that kind of attitude we're bringing the one thing that's keeping us from joy…ourselves.
I love how Luke puts it - an angel of the Lord appeared. The word translated "appeared" literally means to be urgently present. That is so beautiful. God shows up. No matter what you're doing or going through, God is urgently present. Amen?
We know suddenly things happen in the negative. We know that kind of suddenly when things change for the worse. Suddenly you get that phone call or text. Suddenly you get the diagnosis. Suddenly there's an accident. There's the suddenly when things go bad real fast.
But the Biblical truth is suddenly there's joy in our lives. Joy is here because Jesus Christ is always with you. You are never alone. God's love is here no matter what.
That's what happened to the shepherds. Suddenly God showed up. Suddenly joy was there. Remember, joy isn't about situation or circumstance. God shows up. Joy is here.
The second thing we learn about joy, still from the shepherds, is:
JOY IS SENT.
Luke 2:10-12 says:
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
So joy is here…for everyone everywhere. That's the Biblical truth. But there are ways, not Biblical, that people try to grab hold of joy. They do it through work. They do it through food. They do it through alcohol. They do it by wearing blinders, shutting out all the bad in the world. They do it through shopping or even playing the lottery. Maybe luck is a cousin to joy. Is that how you can have joy in your life?
Make no mistake. Joy isn't found. Joy isn't created from within. Joy is sent from above. God wants to bring joy into every person's life. God sends joy to every person ever where. And the funny thing is, there are people who spend their entire lives trying to find something that God has already sent. They can't see the joy…in Jesus Christ…that is already there.
The angel said to the shepherds, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." Good news becomes great joy when it becomes personal.
The reason the shepherds get the first Christmas invitation is because God wants us to know that Christmas is personal. It is for poor ordinary people like you and like me. Jesus came for you. He came to let you know how much you are loved. Jesus came to tell you that he loves you no-matter-what. Christmas is personal.
Here's something else you might want to write down:
GOOD NEWS IS GREAT JOY.
God sends joy into your life. And it's there no matter what.
Last thing about the shepherds. Look at what the shepherds did when they went and saw the child:
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
They went and told. Joy is sent, and then joy is shared. That's the second part to sent joy. It must be shared. You tell other people. And notice the response. People wondered…they were astonished…at what the shepherds had told them. Why? Because people need good news of great joy.
One of the principles of joy is you can't bottle it up. Joy has to be shared. Let the joy of Christ overflow from your lives.
So joy is here. Joy is sent into our lives. And from the Wise Men we learn a third truth about joy:
JOY IS A JOURNEY.
This is where we're going to end. Next week we'll learn more about joy from the Wise Men.