3rd Sunday of Advent
The Star: A Journey of Joy
VIDEO – Joy Bumper video
Today is the third Sunday of Advent, and we’re glad you’re here journeying with us through this season. We’ve been spending the last couple of Sundays talking about Advent and how it is a season of preparation and expectation. We’ve already learned about the journey of hope and love.
Our guiding symbol through the season is the star. Just as that Star of Bethlehem drew the wise men toward the Savior thousands of years ago, the star guides our focus on a spiritual journey of hope, love, joy, and peace that all connect us to the Morning Star, the light of the world, Jesus.
As we continue to follow the star toward Christmas, it leads us today to focus on the journey of joy. Joy can be the fuel that brightens our journey, and it is a fascinating concept. Joy is often misunderstood. It is often confused with happiness. And it regularly shows up in situations where it may be least expected.
Birth of our children
I remember with the birth of all three of our boys that while Judy was experiencing labor pains, there was extreme joy that followed as soon as they were born
At least for a short period of time, after giving birth, Judy didn’t notice the pain her body was experiencing
With Seth’s birth, she was told for the last two months of the pregnancy that she couldn’t have the baby yet
She wasn’t able to mentally prepare for his delivery like she had done for Wade’s delivery
Then one day, they told her she could have the baby
That delivery was probably the most difficult of the three
While I didn’t experience labor pains, I was filled with joy and wept at the birth of all three of our boys
While working at the headquarters of Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) in Missouri, I was caught up in one of the layoffs that took place
There had been financial struggles for many ministries that year and CEF was not exempt
The night before the layoffs were announced, I remember thinking that they would never lay me off, because of how much I did and how much I knew
It was that night that God told me I was one of the ones who would be laid off
So, I went to work the next day anticipating that I would not a job by the end of the day
There was definitely fear associated with being laid off
I had a wife and three boys to take care of
We had a beautiful home and a mortgage to pay each month
We had two vehicles with monthly insurance payments
I had no idea where I would get a job
Yet, the next day when the Vice President of USA Ministries came into my office and explained that I was being laid off, I was filled with joy
As he prayed for me, I remember raising my hands (under my desk) and thanking God for showing me that it was time for me to leave CEF and pursue other opportunities
I had some growing to do and that experience was the catalyst that started that growth, both personally and spiritually
What fears are you facing right now?
The list could go on!
Are those concerns stripping you of joy?
Are those concerns consuming every waking moment?
Are they keeping you awake at night?
Are you struggling to find joy in the difficult situation?
Through this journey of joy, today, God wants us to understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – We can have joy in life’s journey.
As we look at the journey of joy today, we’ll see that joy and pain co-exist, that joy connects us with others, and that our response to joy should be worship.
GOD (Luke 2:8-20)
Joy and Pain (vv. 8-14)
Sometimes it’s easier to find joy in our circumstances when we stop focusing on them and begin to focus on the needs of others
In America, we are blessed in so many ways
We have plenty of food at our fingertips and clean drinking water
Most everyone has a safe place to live
We have multiple educational opportunities for our children
We have a governmental system that provides certain freedoms
We have our own toothbrush and toothpaste
We have multiple versions of the Bible and many of us have multiple copies of the Bible
Yet, there are individuals around the world who have so much less than we have and find joy in it
Operation Christmas Child is an organization that provides boxes filled with items we take for granted, but that children around the world cherish and find great joy in
Show VIDEO – LoveGrowsinUkraine [https://video.samaritanspurse.org/love-grows-in-ukraine/]
I just love the children’s faces with those huge smiles on them
Their faces say it all – they are filled with joy!
Even though they live a life that we would consider hard or difficult, they find joy in the simple things
As we think about joy and pain or joy and fear, I’m reminded of the shepherds the night Jesus was born
Read Luke 2:8-14
The shepherds were a strong, ruddy group
They didn’t lead easy lives
They were considered ceremonially unclean because of their work and therefore weren’t able to worship at the Temple
They continually had to guard their flocks against wild animals
We’re reminded of David, the shepherd boy, who killed Goliath
When he came before King Saul to offer his services against Goliath, he told the King that he had killed the lion and bear to protect his father’s flocks
They also laid in the opening to the sheep pen throughout the night and became the “door” to protect the sheep from thieves
The shepherds had their fears and pains, but I’m sure they experienced joy also
The angels appearance brought fear
While these shepherds were a hardy bunch, the appearance of an angel in the dead of night terrified them
They didn’t know what to think about what they were seeing
The angel and his group came in peace with the world’s greatest birth announcement, but first he had to help the shepherds get over their fear
He calms their fears by telling them not to be afraid
They weren’t the first ones to hear those words from an angel
Mary and Joseph also heard those same words when they each had their own individual meeting with an angel
Once the shepherd’s fear was taken care of, they were ready to hear the angel’s message
The angels message would bring joy
The angel had good news that would bring great joy to all of humanity
There was a baby that was born in Bethlehem that night
It wasn’t just any baby, but it was Christ the Lord!
The angel gave the shepherds specific information to identify the baby they were to look for (the baby would be wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger – a feeding trough for animals)
Before the angel left he was joined with a choir of angels, praising God
It’s a strange thing about joy – it seems the natural reaction for most of us is to think joy could only come when pain is removed
But the truth is, in our fallen world, joy and pain exist side by side
Our lives are a constant balance of joy and pain as we walk through the experiences of life
In fact, it is often the pain or struggle that magnifies the power of joy
And it’s here in this dichotomy that the message of the angel is for us as well: Do not be afraid!
The struggles you’re going through – health, finances, relationships, school, employment, society, government, etc. – those are the exact places where the words of the angel can penetrate the most deeply and powerfully
The angel’s message is for you!
There is good news of great joy
James writes about joy in trials and makes a pretty astounding statement
James 1:2-4, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Can James really mean that?
It’s not a “fake it ‘til you make it” idea
It’s understanding that through our trials we can grow and become mature in our faith as we seek God
As we walk in relationship with God, we can grow to experience a sense of joy that comes from understanding there is more than the pain we’re currently facing
We can have joy in life’s journey
My Next Step Today Is To: Not be afraid of the difficult things I’m currently going through and remember that I can have joy in the middle of it with God’s help.
The shepherds experienced joy and fear co-existing, but they also realized that joy brings connection with others
Joy and Connection (vv. 15-19)
Thinking back about the video from Operation Christmas Child, did you notice that they bring all the children together
The children are experiencing the joy of receiving their gift with other children who are also receiving a gift
It’s a time of building community and togetherness
They are also hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as they gather together
In Ukraine, the children continue to gather together to learn how to read
The joy each child experiences is done in connection with other children – they experience joy together
Read Luke 2:15-19
The shepherds were experiencing the joy of Jesus’ birth together
Scripture doesn’t tell us how many shepherds were together that evening, but it was more than one
They had experienced a heavenly choir and the incredible news that the Messiah had been born
This was who Israel was waiting for!
As the shepherds were processing everything they had just seen and heard, they decided to go and see what had happened
So, they hurried off into town and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby – just like the angel had said
The shepherds didn’t just keep this incredible news to themselves
The shepherds connected with others in Bethlehem after seeing Jesus
They began to spread the word concerning what they had been told about Jesus
He is the Savior, He is Christ the Lord
Those were two important terms for the Israelites
They were looking for a Savior from Roman rule
Christ was even more important for them
Christ can be translated Messiah
In Greek it was “The Christ”
In Hebrew it was “the Messiah”
Both mean “the Anointed One”
John 3:17, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
What do we need to be saved from?
The Israelites thought they needed to be saved from Roman rule
We may be feeling like we need to be saved from the difficult circumstances we’re currently in (health, finances, school, employment, relationships, government, society, etc.)
In many cases we need to be saved from those things, but there is a greater concern we need to be saved from – the darkness of sin in our lives
Sin is an age-old problem that every generation and every individual has been enslaved to since the fall of Adam and Eve
Isaiah 53:6, We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
We are born with a desire to have our own way
It is not a condition that only certain people struggle with – it’s a condition that all humanity struggles with
Romans 3:23, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
God knew from the beginning of time that we would reject Him and go our own way – we would choose to be separated from Him
That is what we earn or deserve for our sin – for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)
Since God knew we would choose to reject Him, He already had a plan in place to deal with the darkness of sin in our lives
He was waiting for just the right time
Romans 5:6, You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
Galatians 4:4-7, But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
God’s plan was to send Jesus from heaven to earth, grow up to be a man, live a perfect life, die on a cross to take our punishment for sin, be buried, and come alive again on the third day, conquering sin and death
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that Jesus fulfilled God’s plan that was prophesied by Old Testament prophets – He died, was buried, and came alive again in three days
Romans 10:9-10, 13, That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved . . . for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
You have to admit that you are enslaved to sin
You have to be willing to turn from your sin (Repent)
You have to believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus died, was buried, and came alive again to save you from your sin
My Next Step Today Is To: Believe in Jesus, confess that with my mouth, and be saved from the darkness of sin in my life.
When you make that decision to be saved from your sins, you are connected with millions of other believers around the world
The good news of great joy wasn’t just for the shepherds, the Israelites, Americans, or all Christians
The good news is for the whole world (everyone), regardless of borders, governments, nationalities, races, or socio-economic levels
The shepherds connected with those in Bethlehem and shared the good news about Jesus
The response of those they told was amazement!
There is one more aspect of joy that we need to investigate
Joy and Worship (v. 20)
What is our response to joy?
What do we do when joy interrupts our everyday lives and sets up camp alongside our fears and pain?
How do we live in the balance of joy and pain/fear until Jesus comes again?
How do we foster and experience this joy that is offered to us?
Feelings about joy
Sometimes it’s easy to embrace joy
Sometimes our struggles and hurts are so overwhelming that we are trapped and bound by our fear
Joy can feel so far away, so distant, maybe even impossible
The Bible shows us that the appropriate response to joy is always worship
It is even possible that worship can jump-start joy as we fix our eyes on God and His greater reality and plan rather than on our immediate problems or the fears we are facing at the moment
In the Christmas story we see the response to joy from three different groups
The angels, Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)
The shepherds, The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20)
The wise men, When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11)
All of creation rejoices and worships the Lord
Psalm 96:11-13, Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth.
Isaiah 55:12, You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
We can experience the same kind of joy that causes us to worship this Advent season
Peter told us our walk of faith in Jesus brings us a sense of joy
1 Peter 1:8-9, Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
When we change our focus from the fear and pain we are currently experiencing and focus on eternity, we begin to realize that what we going through may not be that bad – it gives us perspective
2 Corinthians 4:17-18, For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
We have a choice
We can wallow in self-pity, fear, and pain
Or, we can change our perspective and focus, by worshiping God in the fear and pain
My Next Step Today Is To: Focus on the unseen by worshiping God in the middle of my fear and pain as a way to jump-start joy in my life.
Not experiencing joy in your life
The brokenness of our fallen world stands at odds with Christ’s joy
We straddle the tension between our physical and spiritual realities
While we talk about the angels, shepherds, and wise men worshiping God, because of Jesus’ birth, it may be a very difficult and lonely time for many of us
What can we do when we find ourselves in that position?
First, take the time to connect with others – joy can be contagious (this room is a great place to start if you need to find someone to listen, to pray, and to worship)
Second, take time and make a choice to be purposefully thankful (gratitude has a way of reminding us of joy and the reasons we have to rejoice even in the midst of pain – even make a list so you can refer back to it when you’re experiencing fear and pain)
Third, let’s worship God for who He is! (we can worship God for who He is, because His eternal love and faithfulness never change and His goodness and mercy never run out)
Experiencing joy in your life
Make yourself available for those who are struggling this Christmas season
We will be taking up a love offering during the closing song this morning for a family in the church who is struggling financially
There are many individuals within our church and even outside our church who are lonely and would welcome a visit (we can recommend individuals to you)
There are individuals who just need someone to pray with them and encourage them
VIDEO – “Advent_4_-_Joy_English_Version”