Iliff and Saltillo UM Churches
Third Sunday of Advent Joy
December 15, 2002
“Celebrating the Season Whatever Your Circumstances”
No Christmas This Year
We won’t have a Christmas this year, you say
For now the children have all gone away
And the house is so lonely, so quiet so bare
We couldn’t have a Christmas that they didn’t share.
We won’t have a Christmas this year, you sigh,
For Christmas means things that money must buy.
Misfortunes and illness have robbed us we fear
Of the things that we’d need to make Christmas this year.
We won’t have a Christmas this year you weep
For a loved one is gone, and our grief is too deep.
It will be a long time before our hearts heal,
And the spirit of Christmas again we can feel.
But if you lose Christmas when troubles befall,
You never have really had Christmas at all.
For once you have had it, it cannot depart
When you learn that true Christmas is Christ in your heart. (author unknown)
Today is the third Sunday of Advent--the theme is joy. Many of us lose our joy at the Christmas season because Christmas doesn’t always live up to the expectations we have of it. We place unreasonable demands on it and upon ourselves. We want to be upbeat and happy every minute and the family must get together with no unpleasantness and disagreements. No one will argue and every present will be well received. We look forward to an ideal joyful Christmas
We all have some kind of plans for the holidays. Some will travel “back home” to see relatives and others will welcome family and friends “home for the holidays.” But have you ever gone home only to have that much-anticipated time somehow fall flat? Or have you ever had your eagerly-awaited company end up driving you crazy? Homecomings are not always all they are supposed to be and we inevitably end up losing our joy.
Psalm 126 is called a song of ascents. As pilgrims would “ascend” the rising road to Jerusalem, they would sing some of the Psalms. This one is full of nostalgia of the memory of when God brought the exiles back home in 538 B. C. The day of homecoming was wonderful and the trip back was anticipated with great joy; and when they finally arrived, they felt that it was too good to be true. The people knew about the promises of restoration; but when the actual moment came, it was an overwhelming experience. The Psalm opens by saying, “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed and our mouths were filled with laughter.” (v. 1). They were excited about what the Lord had done for them, and they were joyful praising the Lord as they looked around. Maybe they thought they would never get back to their home. It was almost too good to be true. When they first got home, they praised the Lord for the great miracle He had done for them and their joy spilled over to everyone around them. Others noticed what great things the Lord had done for them also.
What can we get out of this scripture for us today?
1. Rejoicing in Partial Blessings: The people had endured great sorrow but finally God takes action for His people and brings them out of captivity and back to their homeland. The restoration was not complete yet, but that didn’t matter to them. They were happy and overwhelmed by all that He had done for them up to that point. Even though the walls of the city were broken down, even though things were not “perfect,” yet they experienced a sense of great joy.
Today we are reminded that we can have joy whatever our circumstances. This is because JOY is not dependent upon circumstances like happiness is. Happiness depends on GOOD HAPPENINGS. If I get a raise, I’m happy. If the weather is good, I’m happy. If I get my car fixed and it didn’t cost me very much, I’m happy. If my health is good, I’m happy. But circumstances have a tendency to change like they did for these people of God, and when that happens, happiness is lost.
Joy on the other hand defies circumstances. You can have joy in spite of difficult circumstances because joy is an attitude. Someone once said, “Joy is the feeling of grinning inside.” Are you grinning inside this morning?
Story: There is a story about a little boy in church who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn’t gurgling, spitting, humming, tearing the hymnbooks apart, or rummaging through his mother’s purse. He was just smiling. Suddenly his mother jerked him around, and in a stage whisper that everyone could hear, said, "Stop grinning. You’re in church." With that she have him a slap on his hindside, and as the tears rolled down his cheeks she added, "That’s better," and returned to her prayers. If you can’t grin in church, where can you be joyful? (source unknown)
Another person says that joy is that “deep settled confidence that God is in control of every area of your life.” How can this be? It is because Jesus is the SOURCE of our joy. He told his disciples, “In this life you will have trouble--but take heart! I have overcome the world! (John 16:33). Some Christians are devastated when hard times come.
Our joy is a spiritual reality anchored in Jesus, not in external circumstances. That’s why you can have joy even when your world is falling apart, even when Christmas is far from what you want it to be.
We can be joyful when our restoration is far from complete. You can rejoice in Partial Blessings. Jesus is the foundation for our joy. As long as we have Jesus in our life, no one can rob us of the joy He provides. When we feel depressed struggling with our problems, we can turn to Him and ask for His help. He will give us what we need to have JOY IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE.
Rufus Jones said, “True joy is not a thing of moods tied to fluctuating experiences. It survives through sorrow and pain like a subterranean spring, waters the whole life.”
But living a JOYFUL LIFE involves choosing to faithfully follow the Lord. You will not experience joy if you are willfully rebelling against Him. If you’ve set yourself against the Lord and His ways, joy will not be present. On the other hand, if you live to please the Lord, joy is going to be one of the by-products.
So whatever circumstances you are in at this Christmas season, REJOICE even in PARTIAL restoration.
2. Confidence For the Future: The people in today’s scripture still had a lot of problems and needs even when they were safely back in their hometown. God had not worked everything out for them. One need and problem unfolded after the other. In fact God’s mighty deliverance was followed by depression and disappointment as described in Haggai 1:5-11 and the local opposition in Ezra. Those that had come out of captivity were still in distress even in their own land. (See Nehemiah 1:3). They had to have FAITH that God would still be with them and bring them through these trials.
C.S. Lewis said that “one of the primary signs of FAITH is the EXPERIENCES OF JOY.” Why? Because we are not worried about the future. God IS still in the process of transforming us. God IS still working on us. Knowing this frees us from the past. The prophet Isaiah sums it up in Isaiah 43:19 when he says, “forget the former things. Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
In verse 4 the people asked God to “Restore [their] fortunes like streams in the Negev.” This refers back to a promise of future restoration in Deut. 30:3 “return to the Lord, obey him with all your heart. THEN the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you from all the nations where he scattered you.”
We often hang on to so much excess baggage that we can’t express joy in the present or have confidence in the future. To maintain our joy we’ve got to forget the past disappointments, resentments, bitterness, and complaining. Joy will help you to LOOK FORWARD instead of backward.
STORY: A man decided to join a monastery and one of the rules of the group was that you were only allowed to speak two words every ten years. At the end of ten years he said, "Bad food!" Ten more years went by and he said, "Hard bed!"
Finally, on his 30th anniversary with the brothers, he thundered, "I quit!" And the priest in charge responded, "You might as well. All you do is complain anyway."
Joy will help you to ask God in faith for what you need for the present and future. Joy over God’s blessings is followed by new problems calling for new acts of God in our lives.
The people in today’s scripture were asking God to REVERSE their present depression and again bring prosperity to them. They probably understood that no single act of God would bring them into unbroken joy or rid them of trials and temptations. It had to be a DAILY DEPENDENCE on the Lord just as it is for us. Their “fortunes” needed to be restored on a regular basis.
3. Facing Difficulty In Order to Allow the Promised Future to Happen: Verse 5 says, “those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” These people were willing to invest in their future by sowing and working toward the harvest. God took action first in their lives, but they had to do something too. They had hard work ahead of them, tears and weariness; but they were willing to be consistent in all they had to do to see the promises unfold.
Sometimes we expect God to automatically do it all for us. But we’ve got to put forth the effort we need to see it come to fulfillment.
Celebrating God in the ordinary chores of life will bring about the preferred future we desire. Don’t sit around waiting for your circumstances to change. Remember joy doesn’t depend upon your situation. Here are a dozen ways to celebrate joy:
1. Complete what you start
2. enlarge your interests
3. express gratitude to a friend
4. laugh a lot
5. be kind to someone
6. read the Bible every day
7. accent the positive
8. extend a helping hand
9. jot down five reasons to be happy
10. overlook pettiness and jealousy
11. look forward instead of backward
12. Give your life to God
Someone once said that “Many Christians give the impression that instead of coming from the Father’s joyful banquet they have just come from the sheriff who has auctioned off their sins and are now sorry they can’t get them back.”
CONCLUSION: We need the joy of the Lord in our life not only during the Advent Season but throughout the year. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Remember to praise the Lord for PARTIAL blessings. More will come. Thank the Lord for what He IS doing for you even if it is not complete. Have faith and confidence for the future. Ask the Lord for what you need. Let His joy come to you as you let go of the baggage of the past. Don’t wait for God to do it all. Move into an attitude of joy by doing what you can do in your current circumstances. Celebrate the Season Whatever Your Circumstances.
Let Us Pray: