Advent: A Season of Choices
Message: ‘Choose: JOY Text: Various
Introduction: Pastor Gordon Curley writes: When missionaries in the northern part of Alaska, where the Eskimos live, they were trying to get the Bible translated, and they had some difficulty.
When you go to translate the Bible in any culture, there’s a difficulty in translating some words, because cultures and languages don’t always have the same words.
- Ill: “White as snow = white as cotton wool”
There was no word in the Eskimo language for “joy.” So the translators struggled and struggled and got nowhere fast.
Then they noticed that the happiest, the most joyful moments in those Eskimo village were in the evening when they fed their sled dogs. They’d go out, and the dogs would yelp and wag their tails and get all excited. And so, out of that experience, they found their word for joy: “wagging their tails.”
When you translate Philippians 4:4 Eskimo style, it would read like this,
- Wag your tail and again I say wag your tails!
PP: There is a happiness, a joy, that dogs show that even makes me, smile.
- They don’t care how they look.
- They don’t care who is watching.
- They’re just really happy and they know it and if they had hands they’d clap and show it.
(if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands)
And while joy is significantly different than happiness, I believe we can still learn something from dogs.. yes… even me.
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Background: So what is joy, and how is it different than happiness? A little background information you all probably know, but we can use the reminder from time to time.
The words joy and rejoice are found over 330 times in the bible.
- Clearly, to have joy and to rejoice is important in the Christian life.
Here are some bullet points about Biblical joy.
PP: Joy is not natural to us.
- The world experiences happiness, fun, pleasure. And it experiences it any number of ways…those ‘cute’ animal videos people post on social media,
- it can be felt in what we eat, and drink, in who we spend time with, when someone tells a joke, in receiving gifts, or seeing a beautiful waterfall,
- it’s also can be found in the material things we possess.
- Biblical joy is not based on those things we can do or have apart from God. Romans 14:17 says For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
PP: Biblical joy is personal.
- It’s experienced individually and often displayed through the act of rejoicing.
PP: Biblical joy is often expressed physically.
- In the Bible we read God’s people showed their joy through singing, shouting, clapping and yes, even dancing.
PP: Biblical joy is the result of our relationship with God through faith in Jesus. In fact, Jesus Himself is our joy and gives us His joy, as we find in John 15:11a.
PP: Biblical joy is given to us by Jesus in abundance, John 15:11b. Not only can we experience joy, it can fill our lives.
PP: Biblical joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. That means while we can’t have joy apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit, but, we have the responsibility to nurture the joy He gives us.
PP: Biblical joy is a choice… therefore we can choose to have joy, to the fullest, even when the circumstances around us would work against that choice.
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I could go on. All of what I’ve just said is the arial view of joy. I want to dive down close to the ground and see what joy looks like.
- And as always, we start with God.
- Joy… breaks in to our lives
PP: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:26–33)
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I mentioned earlier that joy is not native to our humanity.
- We’re conditioned by our circumstance and the opinion of others,
- So that rather than joy, we experience the lesser emotion of happiness… which comes and goes based on our circumstances and the opinions of others.
The Israelites in Mary’s day were just like that. Most had given up hope that God would keep His promise to send Israel’s Messiah to save them from, well, the difficult circumstances that plagued them for centuries. There was no joy in Israel.
- Until… God broke in to their lives.
This text is an exciting one for us on this side of the cross… at this moment in history. But…it really wasn’t for Mary.
- She was frightened. She was confused.
- She wasn’t expecting God to break in to her life… and bring her such joy that she would otherwise had never experienced.
For even those who still had hope that God would send His Messiah, that hope was a distant thought. And up to that moment, was not a present reality.
- But, it became a present reality for Mary.
God broke in to Mary’s life, and she was forever changed… by Him!
And it’s through the angel’s announcement to Mary, that we see God breaking in to human history… through the birth of His Son, Jesus.
- you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.
Who He is, and, what He will do, will bring joy to all who believe. Later the angel will tell the shepherds that very thing.
PP: 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. 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.” (Luke 2:8–11)
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God broke in to our lives; our hopeless, helpless, circumstance and opinion driven lives, to bring us joy, true, lasting, deep substantive joy, though the birth of Jesus in a manger.
- The world will never be the same.
- We will never be the same.
So friends, since God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, that means He acts and will act consistently with His nature. And here’s a truth you can hold on to, especially during this difficult time of the Covid pandemic… and its restrictions.
- God’s still breaking into our lives. He’s still offering joy, where there’s only hopelessness and helplessness.
Listen to how the prophet Isaiah said it: (in fact Jesus quoted part of this text as His mission statement: PP: Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 12:5–6)
That friends, is JOY! God’s joy. And it’s because God… is in our midst.
- Keep looking up.. keep looking around.
- Keep looking for God to act, to intervene,
to step in and show you His joy.. especially during the times of your greatest need.
Christian, expect God to show up, to reach in to your life, to add to your story.. the wonderful gift ,of His joy!
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- Joy… is a matter of focus
ILL: Pastor Danny Pinkson tells the following true story: A missionary had arrived in a small Chinese town. After she arrived, she soon noticed that a gang of bandits had just destroyed the little town and everything in it.
Then a native Christian, showed the missionary the ruins of his home; a burnt roof and structure, and furniture, all turned to ashes.
Then, what appeared to be the last straw, the native Christian pointed to his hymnbook and Bible. He said, “They even burned my Bible and hymnbook!” And from the ruins, the native picked a single page of his Chinese hymnbook, the only thing to escape the flames!
The missionary took up the piece of paper and it read “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” What an apparent mockery, a note of joy in the midst of total destruction. But the missionary went on to say, if you could have gone to the little chapel you would have seen the light on the faces of those native Christians, that evening. Those who had lost nearly everything were speaking of the home that Jesus has prepared for those who love Him. “Yes”, the missionary claimed, “There is joy to the world, but only because the Lord is come!”
God broke in to human history. We can only know joy because Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem. He is what matters, He is our focus in difficult, as well as, in good times.
Let’s take a moment to look at a man in the bible who had that kind of focus in difficult times. So much so he wrote this: PP: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7)
- Paul wrote this while having lunch at a 5-star resort in Philippi.
- He took a short break from writing to cool off in his private pool that was just outside his patio.
- When he was done swimming, he got freshly squeezed orange juice and went back to writing.
What? That’s not how it happened? OK, you’re right. When Paul wrote Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. do not be anxious about anything
- He was in prison, under guard, given whatever scraps of food the soldier guarding him had left over from his own meal.
- There was no toilet, no shower, no comfy couch, no heat, no freedom, no internet or flatscreen tv, no social media to keep up with his friends.
- And oh yea, he was sentenced to die.
Yet he wrote Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. do not be anxious about anything
Not, rejoice in your circumstance, but rejoice in the LORD! It was a matter of focus, and what matters is Jesus.
Listen, in this short 4 chapter letter that he wrote while under guard, in prison, Paul used the word joy or rejoice over 10 times. Why? HE focused on what mattered.
- His focus wasn’t on what he didn’t have.
- His focus wasn’t on his friends or relatives.
- His focus wasn’t on the world around him.
He had come to the place in his life where he realized he didn’t need the ‘stuff’ of the world to bring him joy.
- The focus of his joy, regardless of his situation, regardless of what he had or didn’t have, was Jesus… alone.
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The prophet Habakkuk lived during a very dark time in Israel’s history. The Babylonians were about to take Judah and destroy Jerusalem. This is how Habakkuk responded: PP: Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength… (Habakkuk 3:17–19a)
Is that where you are? Is that your heart? Is that what really matters to you, is that your focus?
Friends, you can look for joy
- In relationships, in a spouse, in money, power, influence, in art, music, in a car or boat, even in your garden.
And yes, you will find relative happiness in the pursuit of those things. But when those things are gone, when they no longer bring you happiness… what will you do? The overwhelming evidence in God’s Word is this…
- Choose to focus on Jesus and you’ll find lasting joy.
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- Joy… is a choice
Biblical joy is an emotion we feel in our hearts. But, it’s also a decision we make in our minds… it’s a choice.
Life… especially in this season of uncertainty, hardship, restrictions, sickness and death, can drain the joy right out of us…
- We find that reality rarely meets our expectations, when our expectations are of the world around us.
That’s why we need to choose joy rather than choose to live defeated by our unmet expectations.
- That means we make very practical choices each day if we want to experience the joy of the Lord.
- What do those daily practical choices look like?
The apostle Paul writing to Christians tells us:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Do all things without grumbling or disputing that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:1ff)
Christian, biblical joy is the result of making right choices. Paul mentions a few here in this text:
- Be of the same mind
- Have the same love
- Do nothing of selfish ambition or conceit
- In humility count others more significant than yourselves
- Look not only to your own interests but also the interests of others
- Do all things without grumbling or disputing
- hold fast to the word of life
- be glad and rejoice with me.
All of this has to do with how we relate to one another. Christian, if you want to know the joy of the Lord you have to live as Jesus lived… others centered.
- He didn’t insist on His rights.
- He committed to serving others.
- He valued the lives of others even over his own.
- He worked to nurture unity among His followers.
- He was a source of positive encouragement to those around Him.
- He lived by God’s Word.
- He rejoiced in all things and asks us to rejoice with Him.
My joy, your joy, is a personal choice we make every day to love God and to love, who God loves.
- And then to act on that love in practical ways.
Conclusion: Joy… is to be poured out
One last example from the Bible. And while He was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over His head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.” (Mark 14:3–5, ESV)
Let’s get the picture quickly.
Oil in the OT is often associated with gladness and joy. The psalmist wrote: …God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness… (Psalm 45:7b)
This unnamed woman takes expensive oil and pours it out on Jesus. The religious in the room would have known the OT reference to oil and joy and would have assumed she was expressing her joy in Jesus for something He had done for or to her.
- Notice, she pours is all out, there’s nothing left. She doesn’t hold anything back.
When Jesus pours His love and joy into your life, He is our example, this unnamed woman… is our example.
- We are called to pour out our joy to those around us.
Friend, what’s filling you today?
- Is it bitterness, anger, pride, fear, anxiety or despair?
- Or is it joy? The joy that Jesus has poured into your life.
And what are you doing with that joy?
- Will you share it with those around you who
need to know the joy of the Lord?
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