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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:
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:
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.
Anticipate 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.[1]
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.”[2]
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,
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...
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.
Recognize Joy
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,
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,
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,
Choose Joy
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.
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