KATHRYN HARTLEY — “INDESTRUCTIBLE JOY”
16 December, 2018
Scripture reading: Luke 2:8-20
There is nothing quite like the exuberant, uninhibited joy of young children. Watching children laugh, sing, dance or twirl before they learn to be embarrassed or wonder what others are thinking is truly precious. I often think we could make a lot of money if we could capture that same joy, bottle it and sell it...after all the pursuit of happiness is major human pastime!
HAPPINESS AND JOY
Do a quick Google on “happiness and joy” and you’ll find thousands of results, both secular and faith-based, providing contrasting definitions of happiness and joy and detailing differences between them. Interestingly, Scripture makes no such distinction between happiness, joy, gladness or rejoicing… these terms are used interchangeably in the Bible.
What is clear in the Scriptures is that we are created with a longing for joy: we long to experience joy, delight and gladness and to live joy-filled lives. I’d like to suggest that the most important distinction for us as believers in Christ to make is not whether happiness and joy are the same or different, but in whom we find our joy — what is the source of joy in our lives?
GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY
In Luke 2:8-20, we find the first proclamation of the birth of Jesus. Obviously, we find a few individuals who have been given prior information on a need-to-know basis, Mary and Joseph for example, and even Elizabeth. But this is the first public, official announcement and it is extravagant — better than any modern-day marketing budget could afford.
To fully appreciate the situation it’s worth reminding ourselves of the context.
In the lead up to Jesus’ birth, there have been 400 years of radio silence. No prophetic voice, no recorded word from the Lord, absolutely nothing, 400 silent years...
...and then the sky fills with angels and a multitude of heavenly hosts! The long-awaited birth of the Messiah is heralded! Announced not to religious leaders, intellectuals and the rich and famous but to a group of ordinary, dirty working class men in a field looking after sheep:
“Fear not for I bring Good News of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a saviour who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
This is great joy — not just small joy, or a modest joy, but great, mega (Greek) joy.
And it’s joy for all the people — not just some people, a select, exclusive minority, but available for all people.
Much like our society today, Israel at the time had settled into a life of the “haves” and “have nots”. During the 400 silent years, many man-made religious laws had been created, dictating who could do what, go where and be seen in public. And here, the angel declares, is good news of great joy for everyone and it’s been proclaimed to a group of men who, according to the religious laws, were deemed unclean for working with animals.
And they are not only informed but also invited to go and see…and with great haste and no hesitation, they accept the invitation and go looking for the promised Messiah.
JOY IS PROMISED TO THOSE WHO MEET JESUS
What happens as the shepherds encounter their Messiah? Rejoicing! They are filled with great joy! It spills out of them spontaneously as rejoicing, praising and glorifying God.
One of the consistent promises of Scripture is the availability of, and the invitation to, this “mega” great joy for all who encounter the Messiah. Joy is not meant to be an optional extra for the select, extra-spiritual few.
You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Psalm 16:11)
"These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11)
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Each one of these scriptures point to the source of joy — Jesus the Messiah.
I encourage you to do your own search of joy scriptures, but I’ve found that God is linked with joy over 300 times in Scripture. And this is because joy is not just something He gives, but who he is. God is joy.
Jesus came — Emmanuel, God with us — not to simply bring us joy but to be our joy. Jesus is the Good News of great joy for all the people.
Or, as my favourite Christmas carol says:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
JESUS AND INDESTRUCTIBLE JOY
There are, of course, many good things in life that can bring us happiness and joy. I recently witnessed the joy and happiness of a wedding, the birth of a baby, the completion of a school year, the addition of a puppy to our family, the hilarity of a group of women playing games at a Christmas party.
These are all good things. We are meant to laugh and have fun, to not always take life too seriously, and to enjoy the gifts in our life...
However, Jesus is the only source of joy that is indestructible, inexhaustible and unchangeable. In every varied and changing circumstance of life, His joy can be complete in us.
In John 16:22, Jesus tells His disciples:
“I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you.”
What Jesus is saying here is that because the world has not given us our joy, the world cannot take it away.
In this season of Advent, we have the opportunity to respond afresh to His invitation of indestructible joy. To recalibrate our hearts and lives to the Good News of great joy, our Saviour Jesus.
It’s my prayer that regardless of your life circumstances this Christmas, that you are reawakened to His indestructible joy.