(At Least) Ten Reasons to be Joyful
(Third Sunday of Advent)
December 16, 2018*
By Pastor John Partridge
Zephaniah 3:14-20 Luke 3:7-18 Philippians 4:4-7
In this third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate Joy. But what is that?
Sometimes we struggle to understand the difference between happiness and joy and, honestly, sometimes there isn’t any. Happiness and joy are not mutually exclusive. They often happen at the same time, but not always. I remembered hearing a good definition once, so I started searching to see if I could find it this week. I didn’t find the one I remembered, but I did find a couple of explanations that I thought would be helpful to share with you.
“Psychologies” magazine from the United Kingdom said that “Joy and happiness are wonderful feelings to experience, but are very different. Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events.”
Rev. Dr. Christopher Benek wrote in The Island Packet that while happiness is an emotion in which we experience a wide range of feelings, “We experience joy when we achieve selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice.” He goes on to say that “happiness, as a feeling, is not predicated on something necessarily being good for us. Joy, on the other hand, is at least grounded in the idea that something is good for someone else. We have joy when — even in our suffering — we are acting toward someone else’s well-being.”
I think that the both definitions miss the mark but, together they get close. The first one says that joy is something that we cultivate internally and comes when we are at peace with who, why, and how we are. But, at the same time, a big part of being at peace with ourselves is in what, how, and why we do things for others. And I would also add that our ability to feel at peace comes when we grow in confidence that we are living our lives in line with the commands, and the call, of God. We will never be at peace, or truly joyful, when we live our lives in opposition to the will of God.
But why should this special season bring us joy and happiness? What is it that really makes Advent and Christmas special? And, as always, we can find some good answers in scripture. Long before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Zephaniah spoke to the people of Judah who were in rebellion against God. Zephaniah writes to proclaim the coming destruction of their nation and the captivity of the people in Babylon. But at the end of his proclamation of destruction, doom, and death, Zephaniah reminds the people that there are still reasons to be joyful. (Zephaniah 3:14-20)
14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
18 “I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
which is a burden and reproach for you.
19 At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
20 At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.
And by my count, there are at least ten reasons that, despite the warnings of punishment and destruction, that the people can still remember joy and not only do these apply to us today, but in many of them we can see the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.
Zephaniah says, God has taken away our punishment, has turned away our enemies, and stands with us. There is no reason to ever live in fear, God will remove our mourning from us, and God will deal with everyone who has oppressed his people. God intends to rescue the handicapped, gather in everyone who has been driven from his land, or driven from his people, and give them praise and honor. Not only that, but God will gather together all of his people, bring them home, and restore what was taken from them.
It is important to remember that the people to whom Zephaniah was writing were about to experience horror, terror, slavery, destruction, and death, but even in the midst of circumstances that would, undoubtedly make them miserable, there were still good reasons to remember joy.
But so, what?
What difference does it make?
And both John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul offer some explanation of how our joy ought to be revealed in our daily lives. In Luke 3:7-18, we remember this story:
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
John was preaching to crowds that had come to hear him in the desert wilderness and his message was that the messiah was almost here. Everyone should get ready and prepare for his arrival. This was incredible, fantastic, long-awaited news that had been anticipated for centuries. And now it was finally happening. And as they rejoiced, John explained that they needed to repent of their sins, to share what they had, to obey the commandments, and to be content with what they had. (That last one kind of sticks in the throat of a society that encourages us to “ask Santa” for a new laptop and a big screen TV, and a new BMW doesn’t it?)
But Paul also answers this question in Philippians 4:4-7 where he says:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul says that we should always rejoice. Always rejoice. And growing out of our joyfulness, should be an inescapable gentleness that everyone around you finds to be unavoidably obvious. Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” In other words, “Relax!” Instead of getting stressed, give your problems to God through prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.
So, you see, while there are some people who say that joy and happiness are the same thing, the evidence says that they are not. While joy and happiness do often run together, there are other times when joy coexists with disaster, mayhem, and death. In either case, scripture makes it plain that we have much for which to be thankful, and many things (far more than ten) over which we should rejoice. But as we rejoice in the things that God has given to us, we must allow our joy to guide us toward repentance, obedience, bravery, contentment, inescapable gentleness, compassion, generosity, mercy, and love that overflows into the people, the community, and the world around us.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)
This truly is good news, of great joy.
The question is, what are you going to do with it?
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