Monday, December 12, 2011

The call to JOY!

Sermon for Advent IIIB, preached on Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Some years ago we joked with a friend that his theme song was, "Don't Worry, Be Happy."  He seemed unflappable.  He was more than optimistic, he was happy.  This was especially in contrast to his wife who was known as a realist, the kind who could find a gray cloud around every silver lining.  We laughed about it often.  But life is no laughing matter.  A happy, joy filled person is what we all want to be and yet that person seems very distant from the reality of who we are and the kind of lives we live.  Our sorrows, fears, anxieties, problems, and depression are not laughing matters.  They are real.
    Now almost in the home stretch of Advent on our way to Christmas, we hear a call to joy.  Where do you find real and lasting joy?  "I will rejoice greatly," says Isaiah the prophet, looking forward to Christ.  "Rejoice always" says St. Paul of the Christ who is faithful and true.  "I am the voice crying out in the wilderness," says John the Baptist, pointing us to Him whose way he prepares.  It would be great if a box of joy were waiting for us all wrapped up under the Christmas tree.  But we know it is not that easy, right?  Or is it?
    While I am not so sure that it is God's will for you to be happy, I am pretty confident that it is God's will for you to be filled with joy.  Happiness and joy are not the same; happiness may come from joy but joy does not come from happiness.  Joy is a gift, it is THE gift God has given to you in Christ.  To know Christ is to know God's gift of joy.  Happiness may be the result of this joy but this joy is not a personal achievement – it is the growing awareness of the great gift God has given to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
    When Paul says "rejoice always" he is not ordering us around; he is pointing us to the source of joy in Christ, the gift of joy that comes in Christ.  Joy is the fruit of the Spirit who plants Christ in us by faith.  When faith flowers the shape of that flower is joy – joy that comes from knowing our sins are not scandal or embarrassments waiting to be revealed but forgiven and completely gone.  Joy comes from the knowing that death is not an enemy waiting to steal our lives away but in Christ the door and gateway to eternal life.  Joy comes from fear that melts away in the face of love in Christ.
    "Pray without ceasing," says Paul.  What do we pray?  There is no joy from the constant prayer of our misery.  But Paul is calling us not simply to pray our needs but to pray the promises of God as well.  Think how we see this in the Psalms as the writer rehearses not only his needs but the steadfast love of the Lord as his prayer unfolds.  Prayers that are mere shopping lists of wants and needs are depressing to the one praying and to the God who hears them.  What we need to pray with our wants and needs are the promises of God that bid us pray – God hears!  God answers!  God gives us what we need!  God has not nor will He ever abandon us!
    "Give thanks" says Paul.  Give thanks not because you get what you want or think you need or because you get the approval of others or recognition or reward.  Give thanks because you are a sinner who deserves nothing from God and instead He has given you all things in Christ.  Joy flows not from getting what we think we are owed but from the surprise of grace that receives what we know we do not deserve.  Give thanks... in all circumstances.
    Joy is not some scarce resource that will cost you everything. Think how many gold commercials on are TV.  But we gain little by purchasing gold now.  We should have bought it decades ago!  So it is with joy.  We assume it is valuable because there is so little of it and we lament talk of joy because we do not have much of it.  Rather, joy is the gift of God, the fruit of the Spirit at work in you by faith.  It is not scarce but abundant in Christ.  Yet, you can kill off this joy and steal back misery anytime you want.  How?  Start by quenching the Spirit.  This does not mean putting limits upon the Spirit and being more open to God.  That is baloney.  You quench the Spirit by avoiding the means of grace.  When you run from the Word and Sacraments, you run from joy and right into the arms of misery and discontent.  Quenching the Spirit is avoiding Church, avoiding the Table of the Lord - a sure path to unhappiness.
    Joy is not some secret recipe which lies hidden away like the recipe to a good tasting fruit cake.  Joy is right there in Scripture.  Every word that points to Jesus is points to our joy.  Jesus is our joy and treasure, sings the hymn.  Or another, Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal.  Joy is not some secret hidden path but the clear and well marked path of faith in Christ.  It is this path that John called out and culled out in the wilderness.  Make way for the Lord.  So if keep your distance from the Word of God, you will remain a prisoner to your discontent, misery, and unhappiness.  Joy is the fruit of knowing Jesus and of being in Jesus in His Word and Sacraments.
    Joy is not like a diet in which you have to stay away from the very foods that making eating worth while.  Joy is the result of not giving into evil, of not making a choice to focus on pain over joy in Christ, of not giving in to disappointment over blessing in Christ.  Joy is not the fruit of life in the darkness and shadows where concealment is the goal and honesty is feared, where we compare ourselves to others –  instead of to the Word and commandments of God.  Come out of the darkness and the shadows of evil and wickedness and you will find in the light of Christ the gift of joy, the blessing of peace, and a heart content.
    Joy is not our achievement but always God's gift in Christ.  Yet with this gift comes a choice – will I trust in the promises of God in Christ and focus my heart upon His grace.... OR will we choose the disappointment and pain of the world's broken promises to us and feelings which disappear just when you need them most.  Faith is no naive "don't worry, be happy."  Faith is looking at the choices and standing before the Manger and the Cross in humble gratitude and appreciation for what Christ has bought with His holy and precious blood, and saying, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner...."
    Today we come face to face with the gift of God which is our cause for joy and the only path to real contentment or happiness – if we can ever know it. What will it be?  To look away from our misery is to look into the face of Jesus!  So, if you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, stealing away your joy and peace, I challenge you to pray the hymn of the day we sang until its words find their home in our hearts: God’s own child, I gladly say it!


Anonymous said...

No, I will not criticize one word in what you have written. I only want to emphasize the fact that joy is not just one of the things we ought to have, but it is primary among the virtues.

First, a few words from the diary of the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. I quote them because I do not usually associate the Russian Orthodox Church with the proclamation of joy, but Fr. Schmemann was a special gift to the Church.
12 Oct 76
…”joy is so absolutely important, because it is without doubt the result of knowing the presence of God. It is impossible to know that God is, and not to have joy. And it is only in connection with this joy that the awe of God, contrition and humility are proper and genuine and bear fruit.” …”The first, the most important, the source of everything is, “Let my soul rejoice in the Lord …” The fear of sin does not prevent one from sinning. Joy in the Lord does.”

It is also so very true that the joy of our Lord, and the joy of His children is so different from the joy of the world. Here are just a few of the passages that come to mind: “Luke 26: 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for JOY, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.”

Spoken on the night He was betrayed! Imagine speaking about “joy” on that day! John 16: 22 “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will REJOICE, and no one will take away your JOY.”

And finally, the one I cannot get my mind around, because it reflects the glory that is to come, in comparison to which the suffering of this world is not worthy of mention, Hebrews 12: 2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Joy is an inner contentment of being
in the right relationship with God.
Happiness is an outward feeling that
is completely dependent on your
outward circumstances.

Anonymous said...

You missed a word "not". Joy is NOT the result of giving in to evil...