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Advent 3 - Be Joyful!

Advent 2017  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Be joyful for God is restoring the world!

Notes & Transcripts

The build up

It’s now only 8 days till Christmas! Certainly there is no doubt about it now - we are getting close to Christmas.
While you won’t get much argument that we are in the Christmas season there are different opinions about when it’s appropriate to start getting into the Christmas spirit. I’m talking here of the likes of putting up Christmas decoration and start listening to Christmas music.
For what my two cents is worth, I do think seeing Christmas decorations in October as being somewhat excessive.
But that being said, there is something about Christmas that for most people, it gets them excited, and I must admit that back in the middle of October when I saw a post on Facebook noting that it was only 10 weeks till Christmas, I did get just a tiny bit excited. Of course, you are never going to get too excited at this point, because we are never going to keep up a high level of excitement. It’s just not going to happen.
And so you find there is this natural trajectory of excitement that happens.
Now to think of this trajectory, I want you to imagine a Christmas joy-o-meter.
Just to be clear when the Christmas joy-o-meter is empty that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily sad - you see that’s because this special meter measures the joy that comes from Christmas.
So, for the first three quarters of the year, the Christmas joy-o-meter barely registers anything.
A few months out we might get the momentary blips in the meter as we get the occasional reminder of it.
The meter however starts to get a real work out about a month or so out. You see, this is when we start to put the tree up, dust off the Christmas CD’s, put tinsel throughout the house. I remember when I worked at Hunter Water, tinsel was placed all around the open plan office, and I must admit, it really did lift the mood of the place.
But then as December progresses, you go to community Christmas carols, and other various Christmas celebrations. The Christmas joy-o-meter starts getting really high.
When you get to Christmas eve, the meter is almost at the top. The presents are under the Christmas tree. Particularly for the kids, there is great anticipation for what presents will come in the morning.
But then, as I mentioned before, a few months out you get a few brief reminders that Christmas is not too far away. You get the momentary feelings about it, but the reality of life takes over.
And so the day arrives. The kids wake early. Everyone is excited because the day has finally arrived.
But then some organizing needs to happen. You start Christmas shopping and making arrangements with the family for Christmas lunch, and leaving aside some stress that might come with that, the reality of the day becomes more real.

Exploring joy

But still the excitement levels are probably low.
This morning my aim is to explore this joy. But rather then considering it in our modern Christmas setting I’m actually going to look at how a similar trajectory over a much bigger time period - in fact the bigger picture of God’s big unfolding plan for humanity.
In our house, however, when the calendar clicks over to December, the Christmas tree goes up, the tinsel comes out, the Christmas CD’s are dusted off and
The way I’ll attempt to do this is to go over this big picture and highlight the levels of joy that we find and consider where that leaves us now.
But before I do that, I want to recognise that the description I gave before of the joy before Christmas is not everyone’s experience. Certainly for many the stress of the time can outweigh everything else. Or perhaps Christmas for you is a reminder of sadness, such as the loss of a loved one, or perhaps broken relationships.
If you fall into this category in any way, then let me offer this bigger picture as a means in which we can find joy no matter what our circumstance. In fact this is the beauty of the Christian story - you see, joy is part of the Christian experience, not because you necessarily find yourself in some fortunate position, at least not from a worldly perspective, but because we know that there is a God who has everything in control - and this is exactly what I want to look at now.

The Big Picture

Well, if we start with creation, then you would have to say that joy-o-meter would have started full, but unfortunately that meter didn’t stay up long, in fact it came crashing down in spectacular fashion involving a snake and some fruit, with the result that the first human beings were no longer welcome in God’s garden.
Unfortunately, those levels of joy stayed low for some time.

What joy is

Now before we start following how this joy came back, it’s worth highlight what sort of joy we are talking about.
It’s not just those times of happiness that we feel. Certainly there would have been lots of times when humans at this period of history felt feelings of happiness - as it would for any period of history.
But the kind of joy we’re talking about is that deep seated feeling when things are restored. It’s the feeling that a cancer patient might feel when the doctor gives them a clear bill of health. Or perhaps the feeling on an innocent man accused of criminal behaviour when he is finally acquitted of the charges.
But God had a plan that was going to bring back the joy.
And so as I track the levels of joy as God unveils his big plan for humanity we find a similar kind of joy. It’s the joy of being restored back to the original state in which God created us, but of course we are talking on a much bigger scale.
You see, we started with humanity being created with perfect fellowship with God, and that is where we are headed, and it is only when we get that, will we perfectly know what joy is.

The start

So lets track how God does this.
Initially, as far as the world at the time knew it, the start of the plan would have not registered even a blip on the minds of the inhabitants - but in heaven I dare say there was a shout for joy.
The incident I’m talking about is God calling Abraham out of his home country, and into a promised land, where he was promised to be a great nation that would be a blessing to all the world.
And so begins a journey to restore the joy that was once lost.
Now there is something really intricate about this whole plan of God’s, and I must admit reading it really is a wonderful experience. You see, as you read through the Old Testament, if you allow yourself to get caught up in the story line, you think that the restoration is almost complete before it drops away.
It’s not just those times of happiness that we feel. Certainly there would have been lots of times when humans at this period of history felt feelings of happiness - as it would for any period of history.
For example they get freedom from Egypt, only to find themselves 40 years in the wilderness. They get to the promised land, only to find themselves overpowered by other nations. They get a king and finally some political stability, only for it to collapse with the next king.
But the kind of joy we’re talking about is that deep seated feeling when things are restored. It’s the feeling when a
At each one of these occasions we see this joy-o-meter rise for a bit, and rightly so. God is doing his thing and it should have brought joy. But with each successive rise, we see the meter fall again.

Exile

But for all those rises that we see, there comes a time in this unfolding story where it all falls flat - the meter is completely empty.
I’m talking of the time when Israel where forced off their land and into exile.
If you’re not familiar with this event, essentially the kingdom of Israel has been going for some time, but due to unfaithfulness, God allowed another nation to completely conquer, to the extent that the majority of the people were forced from their land and into a foreign place.
You get a picture of how completely devastating this would have been for the Jews in Psalms such as . Here you get words like
Psalm 137:1–4 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?

The return

This time in Babylon lasted approximately 70 years and the announcement of them being able to go back to their land was a time when this joy-o-meter started back into action.
You get a sense of this joy-o-meter in . They have recently arrived back in Jerusalem, and one of the first things they do is to rebuild the altar.
Let me just read a short section from describing the reaction to the newly restored altar:
In verse 11 it says they gave a great shout for joy upon seeing the foundations laid.
Ezra 3:2–13 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Then Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices. Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred festivals of the Lord, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the Lord. On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, though the foundation of the Lord’s temple had not yet been laid. Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and gave food and drink and olive oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar logs by sea from Lebanon to Joppa, as authorised by Cyrus king of Persia. In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak and the rest of the people (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work. They appointed Levites twenty years old and older to supervise the building of the house of the Lord. Joshua and his sons and brothers and Kadmiel and his sons (descendants of Hodavia.) and the sons of Henadad and their sons and brothers—all Levites—joined together in supervising those working on the house of God. When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love towards Israel endures for ever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Ezra 3:12–13 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Ezra 3:11c-
Ezra 3:11c–13 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love towards Israel endures for ever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
”12-13
You can see that though there is great joy, there is also sadness because things were still a far cry from being rightfully restored.
The joy-o-meter is given a further boost however when the finally complete the restoration of the temple.
We can read about that in
Ezra 6:22 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

Isaiah

And so it is in this context that we come to the passage I read earlier.
In , Isaiah is addressing people whose joy has begin to come back.
But the message he has is - it’s going to get even better.
He’s saying that that joy you found when you saw the temple rebuilt, well guess what, that’s just the beginning.
Now something that’s important to realise in this passage in , this is actually the passage that Jesus very deliberately turned to when he was just beginning his ministry and he sits down in a Nazareth synagogue.
You can see Jesus quoting this passage in starting at verse 18.
He’s saying that the time has come to proclaim the good news, for he comes to give the prisoner freedom, to give sight to the blind and set the oppressed free.
In the words of Isaiah and Jesus, the year of the Lord’s favour came with Jesus!
Now, looking back at how Isaiah puts it, we see in that they will be given a crown of beauty instead of ashes, oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
In verse 4 it then starts talking of the great restoration, but this is where I believe that the picture that’s being painted, is not just of a new temple or even new walls around the city, but a far greater restoration. In just a few chapters following this one, we get that picture of a new heavens and a new earth which we see expanded upon later in the New Testament and in particular the book of Revelation.
But back in we see this joy growing even more.
By verse 7 it says that you will inherit a double portion in your land and everlasting joy will be yours.
You see, what we are seeing in is that even though the Jews are experiencing joy now - they are looking forward to a time when that joy will be complete.

The New Testament

Well, this now brings us to the New Testament. You see because the picture that Isaiah was giving us back in actually was pointing here - which is why Jesus chose this passage at the start of his ministry.

Birth of Jesus

Of course the birth of Jesus sees movement on our joy-o-meter.
Now if you recall what I said back with Abraham when he was first called and how this would have caused joy in heaven but probably very little acknowledgement of the significance of it elsewhere.
Well, you could well imagine that the birth of Jesus would have been similar. After all, at the time, very few people would have realised the significance.
But on this time, the eruption of joy in heaven spills into the world.
This happens in a very real way. We see it with the shepherds by the field who, seeing a great light hear the angels in joyous celebration.
We see it in the wise men from the East whose star gazing tells them that something very significance has happened.
We see it with Simeon and Anna, two older people in the temple who have been longing for the restoration of Israel, and at the sight of the baby Jesus that burst into praise.
You see, though the world at large would not have realised the significance of what has just happened, the amount of joy it caused in heaven couldn’t be contained.

Ministry of Jesus

Now, when the right time came, Jesus started his public ministry and it is at this point that the joy begins to be unleashed onto the world.
You see, while we saw the joy-o-meter make some movement in the Old Testament, it wasn’t until Jesus started making waves in this world that it really started to get going.
Thinking of it in this way explains why was so significant and why he chose it to start things off.
You see, Jesus took control of the spiritual forces of this world, driving out demons and telling them where to go. He took control of the physical properties of this world - commanding storms to stop. He provided food, both spiritually speaking and physically speaking.
Under the ministry of Jesus, the restoration began - and as it did, the joy-o-meter continued to rise. People realised that what they were watching was no mere entertainer, but that things were happening - things that so desperately needed to happen.

Redemption

But there was one thing matter that still needed addressing - and that was sin.
And so of course we come to the cross.
Now ordinarily you might think that the cross would put an end to my little joy-o-meter. But of course, we know that far from putting an end to things - the cross was the pinnacle of God’s plan - and as Jesus conquers the grave the joy-o-meter shoots up.

Final restoration

Now following the story line throughout the bible - it becomes apparent that with the death and resurrection of Jesus we have reached the climax and you almost expect an - “…and they all lived happily ever after”.
But God’s plan was not finished yet - because he allowed for the last age in which to prepare for the final restoration.
This is the age we are in now, and it is also the age in which the early church found themselves in.
Paul, who has offered a number of letters which make up a significant chunk of the New Testament, tells us what should be happening to our joy-o-meter.
In fact, in he tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always”.
And in case you thought it was just meant as a throw away line he adds: “I will say it again: rejoice!”
It is in the same chapter that Paul states how he has learnt to be content in all circumstances.
Essentially this is because Paul understands the restoration that is taking place.
It is this understanding which helps us see the big difference between the joy that comes from God and the joy that is offered by the world.
I know that for every single person here, there are reasons to be upset - some more so than others. Maybe those reasons might be very overwhelming.
And while it is ok to feel sad (you don’t always have to pretend to be happy when deep down you’re crying), but we can have this deeper joy that can sit within our soul - a joy that happens because we know what Christ has done and we know that the restoration is happening.
And the amazing news is that it isn’t finished and that there is more.
You see, the Bible tells us that Jesus is coming again and when he does, that restoration will be complete. The whole point of the bible is that we need to be right with God again, and it will be complete.
There will come a time when there will be no more pain or tears or crying, because the old order of things have passed.
At this time the joy-o-meter will be completely maxed out.

Conclusion

I know that quite often, we don’t want to be joyful.
But quite often that is because we are so focussed on our own situation that we are missing the big picture of what God has done and what he continues to do today.
But as we begin to open our eyes, I believe we will get this deep down contentment that Paul spoke of, such that we can rejoice always.
I want to finish today by reading the first three verses of which describe the joy of seeing this restoration:
Psalm 126:1–3 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Let’s pray...
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