Today is the third Sunday of Advent. If you haven’t been with us the past couple of weeks, we have been walking through the season of Advent. It’s a season of preparation and expectation as we move toward the celebration of Christmas and of Christ’s arrival.
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 a journey of joy. Joy can be the fuel that brightens our journey. Joy is often misunderstood. It is often confused with happiness. And it regularly shows up in situations where it may be least expected.
This is our starting point as we follow the star today on a journey of joy. And as we do, I want us to walk through three aspects of joy: first, that joy and pain co-exist; second, that joy brings connection with others; and finally, that joy leads us to worship.
1. Joy and Pain
There are so many amazing organizations around the world working diligently to bring clean water to locations across the globe. Unsafe drinking water contributes to illness and millions of deaths every year.
Have you seen pictures of when a village receives a working clean water source?
The exuberant smiles on the faces of the people say it all—pure joy! Even though many aspects of their life don’t change, even though they still have to cope with hardships and pain, they are filled with joy because the clean water impacts every part of their lives, bringing safety, health, and opportunity.
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 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!
What circumstances in your life are causing you fear? What do you feel afraid of? Where is the pain of life seeming to overshadow the presence of joy? What feels like it is spinning out of control?
Those places are exactly where the words of the angel can penetrate the most deeply and powerfully. This message is for you: Do not be afraid. You don’t have to fear. There is good news of great joy. And it is for you!
James takes this concept a step further when he said we are to consider the trials we face as pure joy: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4).
Really, facing trials is pure joy? This sounds totally contradictory.
It’s an encouragement that even in the midst of hardship there is a longer, broader view, a perspective that shows us that our trials can lead us to grow and become mature in our faith. And while growth isn’t easy, it can be filled with joy.
What exactly does this joy look and feel like in our daily lives and reality? We’re getting there.
2. Joy and Connection
The good news of great joy is for all people. Life-giving joy is meant to bubble over and touch others. It can’t help itself. Everyone has the chance to embark on a journey of joy because Jesus came to save us all.
In fact, the coming of Jesus and the promise of His second coming are the source of joy to all of creation. Jesus came to set things right and redeem the entire world from sin and death. The good news isn’t just for all shepherds or all Americans or all Christians. The good news is for the world—everyone.
The psalmist conveyed such resonating joy in Psalm 96 “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming…”(Psalm 96:11–13a).
Fear and pain isolate us, but joy brings connection. And the joy of Jesus’s coming goes out into all the earth, connecting us to Himself and to each other.
3. Joy and Worship
So what is our response to joy? What do we do when joy interrupts our everyday lives and sets up camp alongside the mundane and the painful? How do we live in the balance of joy and pain until Jesus comes again? How do we foster and experience this joy that is offered to us?
The Bible shows us that the appropriate response to joy is always worship. I would suggest that worship can also jump-start joy as we fix our eyes on God and His greater reality rather than on immediate problems or the fears we are facing in the moment.
Think about all that for a minute. What might it have looked like? Shepherds let God’s message of joy penetrate and sweep away their fear, they were drawn joyously toward God Himself. It drew them in and lifted them up into God’s life-giving flow of joy.
We can experience the same this Advent season as we journey toward the birth of Christ and live in the truth that the good news of His arrival is the salvation He brings.
You may be sitting here today thinking, “That’s all great, but I’m not experiencing any joy in my life.” That is okay. I get it: The brokenness of our fallen world stands at odds with Christ’s joy, and in the life on earth.
And this season that is about good news and great joy that leads to connection and worship can also be a very difficult and lonely time for many of us.
So what can you do when you find yourself there? I’d encourage us all to step into the journey in three ways.
First, take the time to connect with others. Joy can be contagious. And just like the angels were messengers who sparked joy in the various humans, a friend or loved one—or even a complete stranger—can be the spark or bringer of joy. That person’s experience and sense of joy can rub off on us. Instead of letting your own situation or fear or pain isolate you, allow yourself to step into and connect with the joy of others.
Second, take time and make the 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. Isn’t that a great word: rejoice? It’s an action, and it carries repetition. It is joy practiced and repeated.
When has God filled you with joy in the past? What are His graces and good gifts to you today and in your current life? Focus on the ways He has and is showing you His goodness. Make a written list if you need to. Read and re-read it. Carry it with you through the day, and let it prompt prayers and expressions of gratitude. Then don’t be surprised at the growing sense of joy filling and shifting your heart.
Third and finally, let’s worship God for who He is. The circumstances of life can steal our joy, but even in the darkest times, we can worship God not for what He does but for who He is. His eternal love and faithfulness never change, despite the ever-changing events of our lives. His goodness and mercy never run out.
Will you continue to journey toward Christmas and open your heart to the God of the universe who came to earth so that we could live in relationship with Him and experience the joy He brings?