How many of you are just absolutely overflowing with joy right now? Let’s be honest with each other, OK? Is there even one person here who can truthfully say, I’m so overflowing with joy I can hardly contain myself? Just one?
Would you like to know how to get that kind of joy in your life? Would you? Or are you happy running at – let’s say, 20% joy? Do you think you might have room for a little more joy in your life?
We’re going to talk about joy today. And, I promise, if you stay awake and alert for the next 20 minutes, you might find out why joy has escaped you all these years. And you may actually leave today feeling more joyful and hopeful than you’ve felt in a long, long while. Money back guarantee.
Joy. I think we all realize we don’t have as much of it as we’d like to. In fact, this time of year can be a hard time of year for some folks. I know a man whose mother died at the beginning of Advent, and his father died towards the end of Advent. This time of year is anything but joyful for him – and I expect his gloominess rubs off on the rest of the family. Perhaps it is for him, and others like him, that the Fairport Churches have worked together to offer a ‘Blue Christmas’ service to people who are feeling blue at this time of year.
Lot’s of people aren’t filled to overflowing with the kind of joy that seem to pervade our Christmas Carols and Christmas Cards and all things Christmas. Why is that? We live in the wealthiest country on earth. What’s wrong?
Maybe the first thing we need to examine is some of the places where we believe we can find joy, the places where we think our joy should be coming from.
Some people hope to find joy in their career. And indeed, there are some famous examples of people who actually loved their career – and couldn’t wait to go off to work. Although I can’t think of anyone right off the top of my head. Let’s take a poll. Now how many of us find perfect joy in what we do for a living – so that we can’t wait to get there in the morning? Can I see your hands?
For those of us who don’t find joy in our career, we hope to find joy in our vacation. “Man, if I could just get away from this place for a few weeks, then all will be right with the world. If I could only hunt, or fish, or lie on the beach and read several good books, or travel Europe, or whatever, I’ll be myself again.”
I think we’ve probably all felt that way at different times in our lives. Sometimes, though, vacations aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I know one family who makes great vacation plans, but they always seem to come home early. Why is that? It’s because the vacation is more stressful and troubling than normal life! One of my favorite vacation memories, which I think I shared before, was when my mother thought it would be a good idea, after several days of vacation, to place my brother and I – who never got along all that well - on a very small boat – a Sunfish. And she sent us out into the Pacific Ocean for a three hour tour. I wonder if she was hoping we would land on Gilligan’s Island, so she could have a real vacation from two troublesome teen boys! Often, vacations do not give us a sense of abundant and overflowing joy. Especially since they soon come to an end, and we are left paying the VISA bill when it comes.
Most people hope to find joy in their family. In relationships with their parents. Or husband. Or wife. Or in-laws. Or children. And there are seasons when joy abounds in families. And it’s great. And we should find joy in our family. But there are other times when family is less of a joy. When there is illness. Or when aging parents need to be cared for. Or a death occurs. Or someone squabbles with someone else. Or disowns them. Then, family is no longer a joy. It’s work. It’s a burden. A duty.
I know most of you pretty well now. And I would have to say there are few that have a charmed life in terms of family. Almost all of you have someone in the family that you have reason to be concerned about. We can not always find joy in our family.
Let’s talk about friends. Many people hope to find joy in their friends. Friends are a good thing! Friends can make us feel joyful – such friends are a wonderful gift. Sometimes, when family gives us reasons to be sad, or concerned, or even angry, friends can come in and restore our perspective. Because of the kind of community this is, I know some of you have been able to forge life-long friendships. And that’s great! That’s a joy. Unfortunately, it’s a joy many people have never experienced, and will never experience. Because life is changing. And few people have stability any more. I understand the average person will change jobs seven times of the course of a career, often relocating. And friendships are lost. And even if we don’t relocate, friendships can still be lost. Sometimes, our friends are angry with us. Or we with them. Or they are too busy to notice – that we need a friend right now. It is hard to find sustained joy – the kind that makes us vibrant and overflowing – from friends.
Hobbies can be another source of joy. How many of you have hobbies? Good! I encourage all of you to have hobbies. What are some of them – can you share? (invite people to share) I have many hobbies myself. Camping. Hiking. Reading. Riding a motorcycle. Fixing up old cars. Reading books. Watching movies. In fact, I have so many hobbies, I find hobbies rather frustrating, because I rarely have time to engage in any of them! While hobbies are a very good thing for peace of mind, for relaxation, and for being productive in your spare time, my sense it that hobbies don’t lead to lasting and exuberant joy. Especially at times when our ability to engage in our hobbies, due to time constraints, or physical limitations, seems to slip away from us.
Another place many people seek joy is entertainment. Just drive by any of our movie theaters any evening of the week. Seventeen screens. Parking lot . . . full. Same with the mall. Or at home, people gather in front of the Cathode Ray Tube, or Plasma Screen, or whatever we stare into these days to get our daily TV fix – and they sit there for hours. In the USA, children watch an average of six hours of television per day. Some people have the TV or radio on constantly – even when they’re sleeping. They can never get enough. Is this is source of joy? Is there someone who can stand here and say: watching the things I watch on TV makes me feel joyful? If one of you can, maybe you can share what it is that you’re watching, and we’ll tune in too! Entertainment is not a source of lasting joy. In fact, most of what we consider entertainment today, is probably not good for you! Entertainment just masks the signs of our inward loneliness and restlessness.
The world seems to tell us, and pretty often this comes through TV, or radio, or newpapers, or magazines, or billboards – that we need more stuff. That our stuff – our possessions – is the secret to joy. I have to admit, for a long time, I very easily played into the hands of these gifted marketeers. “Stuff for joy! Get your stuff here!” Automobiles, with that new car smell! “Be the envy of your neighbors” A new home, with central vacuum and all the amenities! “Impress your friends!” Sparkling gold and diamond jewelry! The latest kitchen appliance, in your choice of chrome, black, white, almond, red, cobalt blue, or forest green. The trouble is, you get this stuff home, and someone’s upset because you got your stuff and they didn’t get their stuff. And then you have to figure out how to pay for it all, as the debts pile up and creditors start calling on the phone. And then your stuff starts to get old. And it needs dusting. Or repairing. And it’s not as impressive – as joyful – as it once seemed. Stuff doesn’t lead to lasting joy – the kind Isaiah was talking about.
(SLIDE 3: Empty?) Perhaps some of you feel like you’re lost in a dry and parched land right now. You’ve walked the ragged and dusty hills looking for water – seeking joy. And every where you look – to family, to friends, career, vacation from the career, entertainment, stuff, even religion – you come away empty. And you become weak. And your knees seem ready to buckle underneath you. Your heart grows weary and faint.
Isaiah had a radical vision of what it would be like to discover joy. Because it was joy found in the desert. The desert: usually a place of dryness, of emptiness, and of death, would suddenly come to life with joy. In his vision, he foresaw the coming of one who would offer us a new way of living, one who would bring us overflowing joy, one who would offer us salvation, hope, peace, and yes, joy. Like joy in the desert. Listen to his words once more:
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus,
it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
This passage reminds me of what it’s like to have Christ come into your life, suddenly. What is it like to have Christ come into your life? It’s like joy in the desert! Joy comes by welcoming the Christ child into your life, into your heart, and following in his new way of living, that gives true joy, joy overflowing, like streams bubbling up in the desert.
What else might we discover, when we allow the Christmas Child, Jesus, overshadow all our other joy-spots in life? What else does joy in the desert, the joy of Jesus, look like? We may find help for our feeble hands and fearful hearts. Isaiah records:
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
Welcoming Christ into your life is like having someone strong beside you when you are at your weakest point. Some one to steady you, to strengthen you, to comfort you, to remind you that there is no reason to fear, for even death has been overcome with victory.
What else is it like? Isaiah continues:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
It’s like seeing for the first time, or hearing. It’s like jumping for joy – have you jumped for joy, lately? A savior has come – to release you from the emptiness of the desert. To help you to see. To hear good news – maybe for the first time. To discover your tongue – a tongue that can shout praises, and can forgive, leaving years of frustration and bitter disappointment behind.
Isaiah continues to paint the picture for us, for those of us gathered here today, of what joy in the desert will look like:
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
Finding joy in the desert, the Joy of Christ, will be like seeing all the dry and dead places of your life suddenly gushing with new life and vitality: streams in the desert; greenery springing up where once there was only hot sand. Isaiah continues his vision of joy by revealing that there is a highway in this desert which will carry us away from the emptiness and disappointments of the past:
And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it;
it will be for those who walk in that Way;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and the ransomed of the LORD will return.
It is like having a new way opened up before you, a way you could never see before; the Way of Holiness. It represents a new way, a different way, a beautiful way to walk through this life . . . . leaving behind the old Way, the Way of the World, with all its empty promises. Promises of fame. And fortune. And youth. And health. And social position. Empty promises on that way that lead to wrack and ruin, disappointment and disillusionment, broken dreams and broken hearts.
What highway are you on? Is it a highway of joy? Is it a pathway laid out for you by the Lord? Is Jesus, the author of Joy, walking next to you? How close is He? People that are on this new way, the Way of Holiness, are on the Way of the Lord, walking with their Savior, on the paths of righteousness. And,
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Walter B. Knight wrote this, about joy:
“Joy is the flag that flies over the castle of our hearts announcing that the King is in residence today.”
Do you have joy in your heart, and in your life? Your spirit is whispering the answer to you even now.
Perhaps you need to open a new door; start a new journey, a journey of joy on the Way of Holiness. Invite the King to be in residence in your life . . . and walking with you . . . do it today. Let’s pray about that. Amen.