All I Want for Christmas Is…Joy
December 2, 2007 | Brian Bill
I like reading letters that children write at Christmas. Here are two new ones I came across this week.
“Dear Santa, there are three little boys who live at our house. There is Jeffrey; he is two. There is David; he is four. And there is Norman; he is seven. Jeffrey is good some of the time. David is good some of the time. But Norman is good all of the time. I am Norman.”
“Dear Santa, you did not bring me anything good last year. You did not bring me anything good the year before that. This is your last chance. Signed, Alfred.”
It’s not easy to wait, especially when we’re expecting something really exciting. Have you heard the song about a little girl lamenting the loss of her two front teeth? It was written by a music teacher in 1944 after asking his class what they wanted for Christmas.
Every body stops
and stares at me
These two teeth are
gone as you can see
I don’t know just who
to blame for this catastrophe!
But my one wish on Christmas Eve
is as plain as it can be!
All I want for Christmas
is my two front teeth,
my two front teeth,
see my two front teeth!
At Christmas, most people are wishing for something more than their two front teeth. Many of us are longing for something that we feel we don’t have. Some of us secretly say: “If I could only have this…then I’d be happy.” Some of us are on a search for something elusive, just out of reach. Could it be that we’ve misplaced what is “merry” about Christmas?
The prophet Isaiah ministered some 700 years before Jesus was born and brought a message that contained both bad news of judgment and good news of joy, peace, forgiveness and hope. Please turn in your Bible to Isaiah 61:1-3 and as I read I’ll pause where I see these four themes that will make up our sermon subjects this month: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. [JOY] He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, [PEACE] to proclaim freedom for the captives [FORGIVENESS] and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor [HOPE] and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness [JOY] instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…”
Our focus today is on joy. Isaiah looks ahead to the time when glad tidings will be preached to the sad and the sorrowful, to the depressed and the despondent. To “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” was a promise of a joyful jubilee. This must have been good news to those who were grieving. The “garment of praise” would replace the sackcloth of sadness. Ashes represent anguish while oil stands for joy in the Bible.
God’s people had been pummeled with problems and yet, in the midst of the mess they were in, these words filled them with a longing for something more. They had waited a long time for a special gift from God. That reminds me of the woman who frantically bought a box of 50 identical Christmas cards so she could get them in the mail on time. She hastily opened each card and signed her name without bothering to read what was printed inside. Several days after they had been mailed, she came across one leftover card and discovered to her dismay that the inside had these words: “This card is just to say, a special gift is on the way.”
Throughout the Old Testament, God declares: “This is just to say, a special gift is on the way.” On this first Sunday in Advent, our focus is on the joy that comes from the special gift of Jesus, announced to a group of shepherds in Luke 2:8-11. Let’s fast forward from the time of Isaiah to a hillside outside Bethlehem. The angelic announcement reverberates with the refrain spoken by Isaiah seven centuries earlier: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Four words help set the scene in verses 8-9. The events that happened to the shepherds are similar to what takes place when someone responds to the Savior today.
The shepherds were keeping watch at night, which is a picture of the human race apart from Christ. Spiritual darkness had covered the earth for years and now Satan’s head was about to be crushed. Recovery of sight for the blind was about to begin. The long, long night was about to end. Instead of deep darkness and a hush from heaven, light is about to appear. In Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:79, we read that the rising sun will come from heaven “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death…”
Suddenly an angel of the Lord appears in a flash of light. I can’t even imagine how bright “the glory of the Lord” was when it was shining around them. This picture of light represents the Holy Spirit illuminating a life with His convicting work. This reminds me of the beautiful prophecy found in Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
The bright light in the middle of the night caused the shepherds great fright: “…and they were terrified.” This word means that they were alarmed and agitated. The King James says that they were “sore afraid.”
As I recounted how Jesus saved me, I was reminded again of how I fought to turn off the light of the Lord when He was working on me. I railed against my roommate because he told me the truth. I argued against Christians because I was agitated. One pastor writes: “Sitting in the darkness of sin may have been spooky, but it was tolerable. But suddenly the glory of God’s absolute holiness shines in your sin-blackened heart…” and you become undone.
After going through this process of night, light and fright, the shepherds are going to be alright because they are comforted with these words by the angel: “Do not be afraid.” The reason these guys were frightened was not just because the light was bright but because angels were often messengers of wrath. When an angel showed up, bad news was often part of the deal. But this time it was different. Incidentally, I’m told that the words “fear not” appear 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year.
1. Good News.
As the angel appears to the shepherds who are just out doing their jobs, his first concern is to calm them down because they are terrified. The reason they did not have to tremble was because the angel was about to make an enormous announcement: “I bring you good news…” This phrase means to “announce, declare, or show” the evangel, which is where we get the word “gospel” from.
We can’t appreciate amazing grace until we have first appreciated the fact that as wretches we deserve the wrath of God
Let me just point out that good news is only good news when it comes in response to bad news. The bad news is that we’re sinners. The good news is that the Savior has been born. Until you and I understand the depth of our depravity we won’t appreciate the good news of Christmas. We can’t appreciate amazing grace until we have first appreciated the fact that as wretches we deserve the wrath of God. And great joy won’t come until the good news of the gospel settles in our hearts. This good news is the best news possible!
2. Great Joy.
Notice that this news is “of great joy.” The word “great” here is the word megas in the Greek. It has the idea of “mega joy” or super-sized “cheerfulness.” We could translate it as “humungous hilarity.” This good news is exceedingly exciting because God is bringing about the solution to the sin problem. They went from total terror to giant joy.
Paul asked a very penetrating question in Galatians 4:15: “What has happened to all your joy…” That question needs to be asked in the church today. What has happened to all my joy? What has happened to all your joy? Billy Sunday once said, “The trouble with many men is that they have got just enough religion to make them miserable. If there is not joy in religion, you’ve got a leak in your religion.” A pastor once said to Groucho Marx: “Mr. Marx, I want to thank you for bringing so much joy into the world.” To which Groucho replied, “I want to thank you for taking so much out.”
We tend to equate “happiness” with joy but they are two totally different ideas because they each spring from a different source. One comes from the world around me. The other originates directly from the Spirit of the Living God. Happiness is conditioned by and often dependent upon what is “happening” to me. If people treat me nicely, if things are going well in my life, then I’m happy. If my circumstances aren’t favorable, then I’m unhappy.
Joy, on the other hand, throbs throughout Scripture as a profound, compelling quality of life that transcends the delights and disasters which may dog God’s people. Joy is a divine dimension of living that is not shackled by circumstances. The Hebrew word means, “To leap or spin around with pleasure.” In the New Testament the word refers to “gladness, bliss and celebration.”
It’s hard to be merry about Christmas in our “Happy Holidays” culture, isn’t it? People are busy, shoppers are stressed, families are fractured and joy seems to be elusive. Friends, no matter how broke or busy you are, you can be joyful because it’s a choice to rejoice. Actually, it’s a command repeated twice in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Let me share a few choices we can make to help us rejoice.
- Recognize God as joyful. We can be helped greatly in our journey towards joy if we learn to see the Almighty not as a taskmaster, but as the God of the Universe with a smile on His face. Listen to how God feels about you from Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” God delights in you and breaks out into song when He thinks about you! That’s hard to believe, isn’t it? I love how the Living Bible paraphrases this verse: “Is that a joyous choir I hear? No, it is the Lord himself exulting over you in happy song.” Luke 10:21 says that Jesus “was full of joy.” Some of us don’t view Jesus as joyful.
- Receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. If you are not a believer in Jesus, you can’t really experience lasting joy. Acts 16:34 says that the Philippian jailer “…was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.” Is joy really what you want this Christmas? If so, then you must receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord. Christ was born in Bethlehem but He must be born in you. Corrie Ten Boom once said: “If Jesus were born one thousand times in Bethlehem and not in me, then I would still be lost.” It’s easy to get all sentimental during this season. But don’t substitute sentimentality for salvation.
- Remain close to Jesus. In Psalm 16:11 David writes about the source of his delight: “You will fill me with joy in your presence.” Jesus puts it this way in John 15:10-11: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
3. Global Message.
One of the best ways to build joy into your life is by talking to others about Jesus
This good news of great joy is “for all the people.” God’s mega message was never intended to just be for one group of people in one part of the world. God’s good news of great joy is for all the people. It is “joy to the world.” That’s why we support all the missionaries we do as a church. One of the best ways to build joy into your life is by talking to others about Jesus. Philemon 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”
Luke 15 records for us how much rejoicing takes place when the lost are found. When the lost sheep is recovered, verse 5 says that the owner “joyfully puts it on his shoulders” and then goes home and calls his friends and neighbors together and declares in verse 6, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep. I tell you in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents…” Jesus reminds us in John 4:36 that we can be filled with delight when we participate in the process of evangelism: “Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”
An atheist once made this remark to some Christians: “If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, then you’ve got to look a lot more redeemed.” If we’re going to make an impact on all people we must first be filled with joy. Psalm 107:22: “Let them…tell of his works with songs of joy.”
4. Granted to You.
Notice that this proclamation is very personal: “A Savior has been born to you.” Christmas must become a personal confession in order for it to make a difference in your life. Friends, the Savior can never save you until you cry out, “Christ came for me and then died as my sin substitute. I accept the anointed one into my life and I surrender to His Lordship.” The next phrase in Luke 2:11 actually reads, “Has been born to you Savior, Christ, Lord.”
My friend points out that God gave joy to the shepherds in four ways.
- God came to them where they were.
- God came to them as they were.
- God moved them from where they were.
- God changed them from what they were.
The Messiah Announced
This is just to say, a special gift is on the way. Let’s fast forward about thirty years from the announcement to the shepherds to a scene in a synagogue. Jesus gets up to read the Scripture and do you know what He reads? He opens the scroll to Isaiah 61 written seven hundred years earlier. Turn to Luke 4:16-19: “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed [Messiah] me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
The gift that was on the way is Jesus who is the only way. The only way to have joy is to have Jesus. Some have defined JOY as Jesus, Others, You. If you mess up the order you mess up joy.
Into the night shines a light and in the place of your fright everything is alright.
Good News of Great Joy with a Global Message that is Granted to You.
And now, let’s fast forward three more years to the night before Jesus died. A special table that is just to say…A special gift who is the Way.
As the men come forward to prepare to distribute the communion elements, please close your eyes and listen to these words from Charles Spurgeon (www.spurgeon.org): “Rejoice, ye who feel that ye are lost; your Saviour comes to seek and save you. Be of good cheer ye who are in prison, for he comes to set you free. Ye, who are famished and ready to die, rejoice that he has consecrated for you a Bethlehem, a house of bread, and he has come to be the bread of life to your souls. Rejoice, O sinners, everywhere for the restorer of the castaways, the Saviour of the fallen is born. Join in the joy, ye saints, for he is the preserver of the saved ones, delivering them from innumerable perils, and he is the sure perfecter of such as he preserves. Jesus is no partial Saviour, beginning a work and not concluding it; but, restoring and upholding, he also perfects and presents the saved ones without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing before his Father’s throne. Rejoice aloud all ye people, let your hills and valleys ring with joy, for a Saviour who is mighty to save is born among you.”