Joy—Webster’s defines it as great delight or happiness that comes over us when we experience something exceptionally good and satisfying.
All of us have experienced Joy at different times in our lives
(maybe some more than others)… but we’ve all experienced it.
I’m sure that if we sat here long enough,
you could think of times you’ve personally experienced joy,
…maybe even a time you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
For me, it was back in 1990 and ‘91, during the first Gulf War.
I was a crew chief in the Air Force and my squadron had deployed to Saudi.
Back then, we didn’t have the internet as we do today.
We stayed in contact with friends and family by “snail-mail” – the good ol’ US Post Office. We called it snail-mail because it took at least a month from the time a package was mailed until it reached a deployed location.
As the first month of our deployment came and went, mail began to trickle in. So, each day after our shift, my buddies and I would go and line up in a single-file line at the makeshift post office to see if we got anything. At first no one was getting anything. Mail was pretty sparse.
Then one day, it seemed like everyone in line was getting mail.
I was excited as I stood in line. I had this real sense of anticipation as I moved closer to the clerk… and then finally it was my turn.
I gave him my name; he went around the corner and I waited for him to return with some mail. But he came back empty handed and said, “Nothing today.”
I was a little disappointed, but it wasn’t too bad because it was still early in the deployment and I wasn’t the only guy who hadn’t received any mail. But by the time we were six weeks in, and I still hadn’t gotten any mail, I began to get frustrated. You see, my tent was right next to the post office; I could see and hear folks walking away with their hands full of mail. Oh, man, it was like a kick in the gut.
To make it even worse, Christmas was a week away when my aircraft developed a fuel leak that required me to go to Spain for repairs.
This meant I would end up spending Christmas all alone.
Not only would I not be with my family, but now I wouldn’t be around the guys I deployed with. I can honestly say it was the loneliest Christmas of my life.
Once my aircraft was repaired and we were ready to head back,
we found out we’d been moved to a new location in Jedda,
where half of our unit had relocated. When we landed there, I saw one of my buddies and I asked him, “What about our mail?”
He told me that all of our mail had been forwarded to our new location.
As you can imagine, I was pretty excited, I thought to myself, “I may have missed Christmas, but at least I would have my mail.”
So, I worked as quickly as I could to bedded down my Aircraft, and off I went to the post office. I mean, Surely, I had to have something. Right?
But when I got there, I heard those words I had come to dread,
“Sorry man, no mail.”
Oh how my heart just sank. I was so sad, I was beginning to think,
“Maybe I don’t have any mail because nobody is sending any mail!”
I was baffled; my emotions were running the gambit by now.
I didn’t know what was going on; I was confused.
On the outside, I may have looked like I was doing okay,
but I was a mess on the inside.
But there wasn’t much I could do about it.
So, I settled in on the night shift. I got busy.
It took me a couple of days to get into a routine, but I did.
The post office was right next to the flight-line.
So, part of my routine each night was to go in a little early and stop by the post office.
One night as I was going to work, I ran into one of my buddies,
and he said, “Lewis, your mail came in!”
I was shocked, and my heart began to race—I was so excited!
And when I got to the post office, there sat over two and a half months’ worth of mail just waiting for me to open!
I remember gathering up all the mail I had and just walking out to the flight-line, sitting down under a big light, and opening each letter and package with great delight! I laughed and cried as I savored each letter, card, and package. The anticipation of that long-awaited connection from home was finally fulfilled as I read and touched those letters and packages. I no longer needed to wait. On that night, my heart was so warm and filled with joy! It’s a memory I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
I know if we had time, we could go around the room and have each one of you share memories of joyous occasions you’ve experienced.
But here’s the problem with moments of joy like the one I just shared:
They’re fleeting…temporal. They begin to fade as quickly as we experience them. Sometimes we even forget those moments of joy all together, and still other times, it’s the details that we forget.
My story happened 30 years ago…it seems like a lifetime ago.
2020 has shaped up to be a pretty tragic story. In fact, many would like to just erase 2020 from our memory all together. And listen, I get it.
With all the coronavirus lockdowns, the elections, civil unrest, the economy, work situations, school closings, and limits on social gatherings, the year seems to have drained any sense of joy from our lives.
There doesn’t seem to be much room for joy at all.
Can we truly have joy in such a challenging year like 2020?
Can we have joy even while we are waiting on the mail? Is that possible?
Right now, you might be thinking, “Wow, Jim, that’s pretty depressing.”
I want you to stay with me—don’t go down that path because there is Good News for all of us! There is an eternal joy available to all people…
a joy that doesn’t fade. It’s that same joy the angel of the Lord proclaimed to the shepherds when he said,
“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is Christ the Lord.” (ESV)
You see, those moments of joy we experience now, like receiving a long-awaited package, are just a foretaste of the eternal joy found in the Gospel of Christ. In fact, it’s the Gospel that gives joy meaning. We can be filled with “Great Joy” this morning because the Gospel ushers in an eternal joy.
Jesus, our eternal Savior, is the starting point for everlasting joy, not a package, or something else we’re chasing after, that in the end, only falls short in fulfilling the longings we have for lasting joy.
OBJECTIVE: MY HOPE AND PRAYER FOR THIS MORNING IS THAT WE WOULD KNOW THAT “THE GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY IS A REALITY FOR CHRISTIANS THAT EXTENDS TO EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE.”
To drive this reality home, we’re gonna to look at:
The Announcement of Joy (Luke 2),
The Experience of Joy (John 15 & Gal. 2),
The Resiliency of Joy (Heb. 2, 1 Pet. 4)
Let’s begin our time reflecting on joy by going back to the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds.
- The Announcement of Joy (Luke 2)
Luke tells us the shepherds were living outside in fields watching over their flocks when suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared, and the glory of the Lord shone all around them. It was a terrifying experience for the shepherds, to say the least!
10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV)
Imagine what that experience must have been like for the shepherds…
Over the generations shepherding had changed from being a family business like it was in David’s time to being a despised occupation.
People looked down on shepherds. Many times, shepherds were accused of robbery and using land they had no rights to.
They were generally considered “unclean” because of their work.
They were in daily contact with dirty, smelly sheep, manure,
their own blood from cuts and scrapes, and insects that buzzed around them. In the Jewish community, all of this meant that shepherds were seldom clean enough to worship with God’s people in God’s presence. So, they were generally treated as outsiders.
Yet, here in Luke’s gospel, we have the angel of the Lord proclaiming the birth of Jesus to the least likely people to receive such wonderful news…
…The shepherds are first to hear the good news and then invited to come and worship the Savior who had been born! The very ones who were considered outsiders, who would have been considered the least worthy, are the ones who have this magnificent experience!
And now think of this: These shepherds will be linked to the
birth of Jesus forever. That’s amazing. It’s humbling.
In the Gospels, we see Jesus doing the same thing the angel did.
He continually reached out to the outcast and unwelcomed outsiders.
He would eventually give His life for them, making a way for them to experience peace with God. And it’s this peace with God—this being made complete/whole—that’s the “good news of great joy!”
And here’s where it gets really good…You know, we’re not that different from the shepherds or the folks Jesus reached out to. All of us at one time were separated from God. We were in some shape or form outcasts. And that same gospel of great joy that was proclaimed to the shepherds, and is continually proclaimed to the present day, is proclaimed to you too!
Because of the gospel of Jesus, we can experience today the same joy of the shepherds.
This brings us to our second point…
- The Experience of Joy (John 15 & Gal. 2)
You see, we experience joy when we live in relationship with Jesus.
And in chapter 15 of John’s gospel, we see what this relationship looks like. But, before we go there, I want you to remember what Trace said last week about love…because it’s important: He said, “If we’re going to experience love fully, as God intended, we have to have the right starting point.” …The same is true with a relationship with Jesus; we have to go to the right starting point.
Well, here, in John’s gospel, Jesus tells us what the starting point is:
Relationship with Jesus begins by abiding in Him. The only way to live a truly good life is to stay close to Him. The starting point begins with us maintaining a relationship with Jesus.
Keep that in mind as you listen to what Jesus said to his disciples…
9 “As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
11 “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. (CSB)
See, love now becomes an absolute command for believers and an essential quality for a relationship with God and others. We can’t forget how much Christ loves us. He loves us as much as God loved Him. When we remain in Christ’s love and keep his commands, we remain in God’s love also.
Here’s the cool thing about this passage:
Jesus is telling the disciples (and us) that we can experience the joy He Himself always experienced—this is done by remaining in Him.
I love this because it’s joy (what we’re talking about today) that ties love and obedience together. Jesus is inviting us into an everlasting relationship with Him—He’s calling us into joy! Now that is an inspiring thought. And one that should fill us with great joy!
In fact, joy is the hallmark of the Kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (NIV)
Joy is a natural byproduct of a genuine relationship with God,
just like in the same way we’d expect an apple tree to produce apples.
And here’s the really amazing news: the fruit of joy isn’t produced by the believer, but rather by the Holy Spirit working in the one abiding in Christ. That’s where the joy comes from. That deep inner rejoicing that is promised to those who rest in Christ.
The “fruit of joy” is simply the life of Christ lived out in a Christian.
It’s a joy that continues even in the midst of hardship and suffering.
That brings us to our third point…
- The Resiliency of Joy (Heb. 2, 1 Pet. 4)
Yes, joy can be experienced in adversity.
Joy in suffering is not a trick of the mind. I’m not talking about joy as if we can just put on a happy face and have happy thoughts all the time. We do live in a broken world that’s been crippled by sin. It affects all of us.
So, let me be clear: I’m not saying to rejoice in pain because we derive some kind of pleasure from being mistreated. That would be a foolish and wrong thing to say. No. Suffering has meaning because it puts us into deeper fellowship with Jesus.
Paul understood this, that’s why he could say that…
“Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.” (2 Cor. 6:10)
Listen, Paul didn’t hesitate to admit that his life was full of sorrow.
At the same time, Paul didn’t despair as he endured his sorrows.
It was his hope in Christ that caused him to be always rejoicing (Col. 1:24). The key to experiencing joy in adversity in a fallen world is to adopt an attitude based on the hope we have in God’s love and promise.
Think of the Exodus. The Psalms tell us that When Moses led God’s people out of bondage, the Lord caused them to leave with shouts of joy as they entered the wilderness…a place of vulnerability. (Psalm 105:43)
Yet, they were filled with joy. How could they do that?
Here’s the answer: The key to their joy wasn’t determined by their struggles, but by their future destiny.
“In its most sublime meaning, joy is a deep confidence that God is in control of every area of our lives, even the painful places. The fullness of joy comes from a deep sense of God’s presence in a person’s life. Joy occurs when our pain drives us to depend upon God.”
Jesus models this kind of joy for us…
“2 …For the joy that lay before him,
he endured the cross, despising the shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (CSB)
Jesus went to the cross because of the joy it would bring. He looked right through the cross to the coming joy, the joy of bringing salvation to those He loves. We’re called to follow Jesus’ example and, when faced with adversity, we’re to keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
Peter also understood this aspect of joy. (His first letter was written to encourage Christians who were experiencing hostility and harassment from their neighbors.) That’s why he could say…
1 Peter 4:12-13
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ,
so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (NIV)
It is amazing to think that increased sufferings seem only to increase the believer’s joy in the Lord, but that’s what Scripture testifies to. (Acts 5:41; 6:25; Rom. 5:3; Col. 1:24; Heb. 10:34).
Peter’s telling us that rejoicing in suffering for Christ now will certainly lead to great rejoicing in His presence when He returns. This is why during times of suffering, we’re called to turn our thoughts to the glory and the joy of Christ, which one day we’re going to share in—that is a promise.
This brings us to the end of our time together this morning.
Let’s go back to the questions I asked earlier.
Can we truly have joy in such a challenging year like 2020?
Can we have joy even while we are “waiting on the mail?” Is that possible?
The answer is: Yes! THE GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY IS A REALITY FOR CHRISTIANS THAT EXTENDS TO EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE.”
Great joy has been, and is, proclaimed loudly in the Gospel of Jesus and it’s available to all who listen and believe its proclamation.
Just like those shepherds, we are invited to enter and experience this great joy by living fully in Christ’s love. It’s what gives meaning to all the joy we experience, in both the big and small joys of life.
It’s this Gospel of great joy that makes us resilient people.
It empowers us to keep on keeping on, even in the face of difficulties,
as we look to Christ and await his return.
My application this morning is this:
- Believe the announcement of joy (receive the Gospel),
- Enter into the experience of joy (remain in Jesus’ love and keep his commandments)
- and be resilient as you anticipate a future joy (hope in eternity and the second coming!).
I want to close our time together with the words of the apostle Paul and the psalmist…
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
…for “24 This is the day the Lord has made; let’s rejoice and be glad in it.
(Philippians 4:4 / Psalm 118:24)