Summary: Especially at Christmas we are reminded how important it is to find joy in our lives.
Finding Joy in the Season of Christmas
Back in 1975 I learned a valuable lesson about joy and time, and I learned how many hours are in a week. I also learned about the power of prayer and leaning on God to endure, finding joy in all things. As a naive and much too enthusiastic youth director for a small Congregational church in Glendale, I gathered the junior and senior young people together to pray. We prayed that God would provide a unique way to raise money to build a beautiful prayer garden by a creek that ran alongside the church. We would need to raise $3,000 to complete this project. At first we thought we would have a walk-a-thon where families could sponsor fellow “walkers” per mile. Too overdone, not nearly unique enough, and the idea seemed rather unexciting. And then God put something on my heart. That’s it! That’s what we’ll do! We’ll play ping-pong 24 hours a day for a week! Families could sponsor “ping-pongers” by the hour. A ping-pong marathon! We devised a plan to have two to four people playing at a time, each group playing for one hour, and then changing places with another group. The ball could never stop ‘round the clock’, night or day. We would start at 10:00 AM after the church service on Sunday, and end at the same time the following Sunday. Total hours…..168. The first hour was great. The second hour was also fun, kind of. The first night was long, and the next day was even longer. Church families brought in meals, and adults volunteered shifts to stay with us throughout the week. By Tuesday many of the kids were not speaking to one another. Wednesday, some of the families were looking for a new church in the area. All the ping-pongers were grumbling, murmuring and complaining. I felt like Moses with the Israelites in the wilderness! Thursday the newspapers and local TV came out and we came together beautifully, only for the hour the reporters were present. Friday, I was convinced that God was telling me to leave ministry altogether. Friday night I learned what lack of sleep does to a group of young people. All the girls were in tears, and the boys were crying even harder! All of the boys and girls had fallen in and out of love with each other throughout the week, and now they were just plain exhausted, but we kept the ping-pong ball going. Saturday, every now and then we managed to smile a little, and then, only by the grace of God, by Saturday night all of the kids were the absolute best of friends. Families decided not to leave the church. Everybody wanted to play ping-pong at the same time. There was joy and happiness in the air. We were so close to achieving our goal we could clearly imagine what it would feel like, we could smell victory! God clarified that he wanted me to stay in ministry, just not around a ping-pong table. We finished Sunday morning giving God the praises for holding us together by a thread. We were blessed to raise more than enough money to complete the project, and each participant, each family, and that little church in Glendale will never forget such a unique experience. And I learned first-hand how many valuable hours are in a week, because I lived through and survived each and every one! But as we endured, all of us found joy. Joy of being together, joy of setting and achieving a goal, and the joy found only through God.
Joy. This is so important in our lives. Finding joy all around us, not just in the big things, but more importantly in the small. So how do we do this?
The scripture this morning is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2. We heard it during the lighting of the Advent Candle. Starting with verse 8 we read; “In the same region there were shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an Angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the Glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the Angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, but behold I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people, for today in Bethlehem there has been born to you the Savoir who is Christ the Lord.” The Angel said, “Do not be afraid but behold I bring you good news of great joy.” And the joy we find is in the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Let’s hang on to that as we read God’s Word.
I believe that we can find joy in our lives; that we can truly appreciate people and things around us, yet only through Jesus can we find the true meaning of joy. In the Gospel of John, listen to the words from Jesus: “Throughout the world I ask who believe in Me through their words, actions and lifestyles, that they all may be one, even as You, Father are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me, I have given to them.” Why? So others would believe down through the centuries, today and in the future as well. The joy in knowing Christ the Savior, our Lord and King. The Gospel writers Matthew and Mark tell us “When we hear the Word of God we are to receive it with joy in our hearts.”