Summary: When the angels proclaimed the birth of Christ they brought tidings of great joy! Joy is better than happiness for it does not depend on the cirucmstances of life but rather the person of Christ!
The Year of the Lord’s Favor (2) - Isaiah 61 - December 16, 2012
As I begin this morning I want to invite you to take a moment to consider the first question in your sermon notes. That question asks you to complete this statement: “Happiness is ….” And then there’s a blank space for you to write in your answer. So what is happiness to you? The truth is that each of us could probably answer that question a little bit differently, couldn’t we? Heather tells me from time to time that, “happiness is chocolate.” I’ve heard my mom tell my dad, that, “happiness is diamonds,” but what about you? You see, year after year, across this nation, millions, if not billions, of dollars are spent, by people trying to buy themselves a little bit of happiness.
Here’s another question to consider: If our society is so consumed with the pursuit of happiness, then who would you say were the happiest people on earth? Would it be those who grant themselves absolute freedom – those who are constrained by nothing – those who have thrown away any code of rules, ethics, or morals - those who believe in nothing more than themselves? Some say that’s where happiness is found, and yet Voltaire, who believed in nothing outside of himself, said before he died, “I wish I had never been born.” Not the words of a happy man.
How about those who live their lives in the pursuit of pleasure – perhaps they could be considered the happiest amongst us? Yet Lord Byron, who pursued pleasure and sensuality in all things wrote, “The worm, the canker, and the grief are mine alone.” Indulging in pleasures of all kinds could not bring him lasting happiness.
What about the wealthy? Are the happiest, most content people in this world, are they those who have all their needs met, all their desires satisfied, those for whom nothing is out of their reach? Some would say happiness is found in the riches of this world and yet the American millionaire, Jay Gould, when he lay dying said, “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.” Not inspiring last words.
How about those then who have status and influence? Lord Beaconsfield, who had both in abundance, wrote, “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle, old age, a regret.”
Perhaps then happiness is found in our own glory? Yet Alexander the Great, who conquered the world in his day, having done so wept, “because there were no more worlds to conquer.”
Are the young, who have their whole life ahead of them, happier than the elderly? Or is it the elderly who are happier for they know that their days upon this troublesome earth are numbered?
Who are the happiest people in the world? A newspaper in Great Britain asked that question of it’s readers and the four prize winning responses were these: (1) “A craftsman or artist whistling over a job well done. (2) A little child building sand castles. (3) A mother, after a busy day, bathing her baby. (4) And, finally, a doctor who has finished a difficult and dangerous operation, and saved a human life.” (Source Unknown) That is an interesting list – not so much for what was said, but for that which was not said. You will notice that there are no millionaires in that list. There are no prime ministers, presidents, or kings - in fact wealth and status don’t seem to have figured into the answers the newspaper received at all.
Where, then, is happiness found? Well, you see, that’s the trouble with happiness. People are constantly pursuing it because happiness comes and goes as the blowing of the wind. It is here today, yet gone tomorrow, yet will come again. Christians and non-Christians alike have moments of happiness. But most of us find ourselves wallowing somewhere in between – we are not completely miserable but nor are we completely happy. And for a lot of Christians this is a problem because it clashes with their expectations. “If I’m a Christian, how come I don’t feel happy all the time?”
Some years ago I asked a pair of missionaries who had showed up on my doorstep, what our purpose in life is. Their answer was this: “To be happy.” According to them the ultimate goal of my life is to be happy day in and day out. Apparently it’s all about me and my pleasure. And that’s how many people live their lives, isn’t it? They spend themselves in the pursuit of happiness and yet I want you to understand that even your richest happiness is fleeting. And when we pursue something that is fleeting, and constantly changing, we are running after the wrong thing.
See, as I read God’s word, I don’t see the evidence that the ultimate goal of our life is the pursuit of happiness and pleasure. What I do see is the promise of persecution and trial and hardship. We are told that the world itself will “hate us” because it first hated our Lord, and so it is that it will hate us who are called by His name.