Summary: Happiness depends on circumstances; joy is an attitude rooted in the Person of Jesus Christ and our daily relationship with Him.

The Joy of the Lord Is Our Strength

--Nehemiah 8:1-10

An epiphany is a sudden flash of understanding or a moment of a sudden and great realization. Epiphany in this sense may also be called a serendipity. The two are similar terms although serendipity usually refers to a pleasant discovery we make by accident.

I often hear people share about a personal epiphany or serendipity that has happened in their lives. Maybe you have had such an experience too; I know I have. My special epiphany or serendipity came in the ability to ride my bicycle. I tried and tried again and again, but I never could seem to get the hang of riding my bicycle without the aide of the training wheels.

It was in June 1956 between my second and third grade years at Marion’s McKinley Grade School, and my Dad was home on vacation. The previous night I had a vivid dream that I jumped on my bicycle in our driveway and rode non-stop without falling nearly two blocks to my best friend’s house. Immediately after breakfast I ran out to the garage and said, “Dad, take the training wheels off my bicycle, I want to ride it.” Then just as I had envisioned it in my dream, I mastered the skill of riding a bicycle. That was a moment of joy in my life that has remained with me for nearly fifty-two years. I am certain there have been other epiphanies in my life as well, but this one for me was a life changing event which I shall always remember.

We are now in the Season of the Church Year designated as Epiphany. Literally the term means “to show, make known, or reveal.” My dream revealed to me that I could indeed ride a bicycle. In the Christian Church Epiphany celebrates God’s showing Jesus Christ to be the Saviour of the world, His long awaited revelation to the Gentile nations.

Epiphany Day in most Churches occurs on January 6th. It is also called “The Twelfth Day of Christmas.” If you begin counting on the evening of December 25th and conclude on the morning of January 6th, you count exactly twelve days. Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the Gentile nations to the Persian Magi and also remembers the baptism of Jesus. Epiphany Day is the conclusion of the Christmas Season. The Season of Epiphany lasts until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Today is the Day we designate as “The First Sunday after the Epiphany.” This year, because Ash Wednesday falls on February 6th, we only have Four Sundays in Epiphany.

A couple of Sundays ago we discovered the great joy the angels brought to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. After the Magi left King Herod in Jerusalem and continued their journey towards Bethlehem, Matthew 2:10 proclaims, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Because Jesus is our Saviour and Lord, we can live in constant joy no matter what conditions, situations, difficulties, hardships, problems, troubles, burdens, or trials, we face in life. This is genuine epiphany, real revelation, a sudden flash of true understanding.

One of the favorite praise choruses we use frequently in our Heavenbound Kids puppet ministry is “The Joy of the LORD.” The lyricist-composer Alliene G. Vale was inspired to pen the text and music based upon the proclamation of Nehemiah 8:10, “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’”

Joy and happiness are not synonymous. Happiness is temporal; it is lasts only for a short moment in time. Joy is eternal. Happiness is fleeting; it passes swiftly. Joy is enduring. Happiness depends on circumstances. It usually revolves around luck or good fortune. Joy is rooted and grounded in Jesus and our personal, continuous relationship with Him.

Joy is victorious over all circumstances; it is strengthened through trials. Happiness turns to depression, sadness, sorrow when things do not go our way. It was because His joy was rooted in Jesus that the Apostle Paul could testify in II Corinthians 7:4-7, “I am overjoyed in all our affliction. For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—disputes without and fears within. But God, Who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.”

Paul repeatedly suffered afflictions. Despite sleepless, restless nights, a worn out body, disputes with others, fears, and anxieties, he was filled with joy because his trust and confidence were grounded in His Lord who “consoles the downcast.” That’s the joy the coming of Jesus brought to the shepherds; that same joy rooted and grounded in Jesus sustained Paul, and it is that same joy rooted and grounded in Jesus that will console you and me no matter what affliction we may face.

This is the same joy that Paul witnessed in the lives of the Christians at Thessalonica when he commended them in I Thessalonians 1:6-7 by saying, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” The Thessalonian Christians remained joyful in the midst of persecution because they imitated the Lord Jesus. They looked to Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith who, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “. . .for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Then this same writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers in chapter ten, verses 32-34 to “recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting.” In times of suffering, abuse, persecution, and plundering of our worldly possessions, we live in joy because in looking to Jesus we know that we “possess something better and more lasting.” The Holy Spirit focuses our hearts beyond our crosses to remember the glory that awaits us in heaven. He sets eternal joy before us, and we realize that all our sufferings are only momentary and fleeting; “they too shall pass.”

Tim Hansel is a Christian author who suffered a severe climbing accident in 1974. Many times since then doctors have given up hope for his continued survival, but Tim has kept looking to Jesus. He confidentially asserts, “Happiness is a feeling. Joy is an attitude.” As we continue to look to Jesus, we do live not by the feeling of happiness but in the attitude of joy.

Dwight L. Moody also says it well, “Happiness is caused by things that happen around me, and circumstances will mar it; but joy flows right on through trouble; joy flows on through the dark; joy flows in the night as well as in the day; joy flows all through persecution and opposition. It is an unceasing fountain bubbling up in the heart; a secret spring the world can’t see and doesn’t know anything about. The Lord gives His people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to Him.” [SOURCE: Dwight Lyman Moody as quoted by Edythe Draper, Draper’s Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 6529.] This is our key. Continuous joy is the result of our constant obedience to Jesus as Lord of our lives.

Luke 2:20 reminds us, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Matthew 2:10 affirms the similar joy the Magi experienced: “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” The shepherds returned to their daily routine “glorifying and praising God,” because they had found their source of joy, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

“Glorifying and praising God” because we are “overjoyed” is the way God wants you and me to live each day in 2008 regardless of our situations, problems, circumstances, or trials that may come our way. Let the Holy Spirit conceive and nurture in you the attitude of joy.

May the One Who left His throne in glory to be born in a humble stable and endured the cross, despising its shame strengthen you to live in His joy through times of persecution and opposition. As you keep looking to Him, the Holy Spirit will empower you to glorify and praise God regardless of the circumstances that may come your way, for “the joy of the Lord will always be your strength.”