This is the last of three lessons taught by my daughter, Rheannon, and me at Freedom Fellowship in Abilene, TX. What a blessing and honor for me to do this with her! You can read the text of the first two lessons here and here.
In this third week of advent we celebrate joy. When I think of joy I think of two of my good friends-Landry Bonneau and Jacob Hutton. Landry is just so bubbly and happy all the time. Every time I see her, she has a big smile on her face. Jacob is just… fun. He is always able to joke around and make people laugh. They are some of the best people I know. I hate to see them sad, because it makes me sad. But even they get disappointed or upset. And when they do, when they come out of that feeling, they are even better. Joy is them. They are joy.
Another thing I think about when the word joy comes is a line from The Grinch “I hate this music, it’s joyful and triumphant.” And yet, moments before, he was singing. But after that, he goes to extreme measures just to not hear the music. He puts screws in blenders, gets on a jackhammer, and turns on a giant monkey that plays the cymbals. See? I believe he over-exaggerates his point. I mean, a monkey? Really? Because, deep down, in his small heart, he wants to feel joy. At the end of the movie/book, his heart grows three sizes bigger. He learns to love the Who’s. He seems like a grumpy old thing, but he still feels. The joy is always there.
So where are tonight? Not physically, we all know where we are sitting. But where are you; better yet—how are you? How are you tonight? How are compared to how you were on January 1, 2013? Do you feel as if you are in the exact same place you were at the beginning of the year?
I don’t ask that question to make you feel guilty. I ask you to create the space necessary to answer it honestly. Some of us have had a great year. Things have just fallen into place in ways we never could have imagined. And for others, this year has been difficult. Some of us can join with the writer of this song and say we are in the exact same place as New Year’s Eve.
Remember the time in the Gospels with John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to Jesus? He wants to know if Jesus is really the One. You know, the One he was preparing the way for. “Hey, Jesus? You know how I did all that preaching and preparing the way? Remember how I said I wasn’t worthy to tie your sandals? You know how I became less so that you could become more? Well now I’m sitting in prison, I’m probably going to die, and I just don’t know anymore. I believed everything I said. I believe I have fulfilled God’s role for my life. But now, I’m wondering.”
Can you relate to John? Have you ever had those questions? I have. And even though I know God has worked in my life before, I still feel like exactly where I used to be.
So what do we do with that?
As my father said, thinking back on my year, I feel like it could have gone either way. I could have made some better. But thinking of where I am now, I feel joy. I’m meeting my goal for getting 6 million words well. I’m making all a’s, and I’m able to teach here, the place I love with the person I love. Just thinking about this year, I wish it was longer. Some of my choices haven’t been the hottest. So thinking of where I am, I am happy. I came a long way since January. Many of you may feel the same way. Others may wish you had done something different. But however you feel, you still have next year. If the year has been great- keep it that way, and if it was bad- use it to your advantage. And when you do, you will feel joy. You will be able to look back and tell whatever it is that hurt you, and tell it that it lost. That feeling feels amazing. Joy is findable, but you must be willing to look.
When Gabriel comes to Mary, and tells her she will give birth to the Messiah, at first she is hesitant to believe him. But as soon as she does, she is overjoyed. She sings a beautiful song. She cries out to God, thanking him. She is just so excited. When she races to tell Elizabeth, her baby jumps for joy. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, happy for Mary. And that joy, knowing that you were chosen to bring the One True God into the world. I would have been so excited. Though Mary was looked down on from just about everyone, she didn’t care. And when she is forced to give birth in an old stable, (or cave, or any other not-great-places) she handles it. She gives birth, and rejoices.
But after that, she must run. She has to run from a powerful king, who wants her son dead.
Advent. The hope of a Savior. The hope of a Messiah. The hopeful expectation that God is moving in this world in a way that only God can.
“And so this Christmas I’ll compare the things I felt in prior years; To what this midnight made so clear; That you have come to meet me here.”
That’s the message of Christmas. That’s the hope of Advent. That God has come to meet us exactly where we are. And He does it by living the human experience completely.
Do you remember the answer Jesus sent back to John the Baptist? He doesn’t say, “Of course I’m the Messiah! How dare you question me?” He says, “Tell John what you see: the deaf hear, the lame walk, the blind see, the lepers are healed, the dead are raised, and the Good News is preached to the poor.”
Immanuel has come. God is with us. When we ask ourselves where we are compared to last year, the answer may not be as happy as we want it to be.
But Christ has still come!
Hope, peace, joy. These are things Christmas stand for. It’s not all about presents and food. It’s about a savior who came to save. A God who sent his only son to save us. But there is still sin. There are still school shootings, people who won’t get presents, who won’t have a good meal.
I hope for a day when young men and women don’t have to fight, where we have no enemies. I hope for a day when parents don’t have to worry about their children getting shot. I hope for a day when I can go to school, and not have to worry about what people might say about my clothes, or hair, or whatever else is considered important. I hope for a day when people don’t have to worry about their parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents are dying.
I want to be at peace with my friends, and not have to watch what I say. I want a day when we can have peace with all our enemies. I want a day when peace is an understatement to the way people are.
I wish for a day when people are so joyful they can’t describe it. I wish for a day when there is no disappointment, anger, or upsetedness. I wish for a day when everyone has a smile from ear to ear, all the time.
But most of all I hope for a day when a young woman can give birth to the Savior in peace, and be joyful. That is the day I want to live to see.
And that is the day the gives us joy. Throughout Advent we hope, we wait. But when Jesus comes, we celebrate!
Jesus may not have had any idea what was going to happen the first time He took a breath. But one day, I was going to pray to Jesus to save my life. And He would do it. And for that I celebrate.
I celebrate the day the He was born. I celebrate the heart of Mary and Joseph. I celebrate the gift of God. I am filled with joy and get to the point when praise just has to break out in any way possible.
We are going to close this lesson, this series, and this calendar year with a time of praise. We are going to express our joy to God for the gift of His Son, Jesus.