God with Us Part 3 - Joy

Series: Special Occasions

December 16, 2018
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

If you’ve been with us the past two weeks as we head toward Christmas, you know we have been celebrating Advent. The word advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and the advent season is about expectation, waiting, anticipation, and longing.

It gives us a chance to share in the ancient Jews’ longing for the coming of the Messiah, to celebrate His birth, and to be on the lookout for His second coming. Advent looks back at the hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s coming, while at the same time looking forward in anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when He returns for His people. 

Each week, we focus on a different attribute of God represented in the coming of Jesus: hope, love, joy, and peace. Jesus, Immanuel, “God with Us,” is the embodiment of these traits.

Joy is what we’re celebrating on this third Sunday of Advent. 

Let’s Pray………………………………………………..

Everyone knows Christmas is about the birth of baby Jesus, but many aren’t aware that another baby’s birth is a key part of the Christmas story as well.

That part of the story begins six months before little Mary learns how special she is, and it happens in the lives of her relatives Zachariah and Elizabeth…

Luke 1:5–7 (ESV) — 5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Note what Luke says about this couple: they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in his commandments. That means more than just obeying the letter of the law. They also lived according to the spirit of the law.

We get a sense of what that means when we look at how Jesus condemned the Pharisees in Matthew 23…

Matthew 23:23 (ESV) — 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

In a time when the Jews, and especially the leaders of the Jews, were ironically keeping the law but far from God, Zechariah and Elizabeth were part of the faithful remnant God promised would always be there. They loved God and were waiting for the day He would deliver his people.

As faithful as they were, notice what a sad situation they were in: Elizabeth was barren. Not being able to have children is tragedy enough for a couple wanting to have kids in our day, but a hundred times more so in that day.

For the ancient Jews, children were a tremendous blessing. Children allowed a family to pass on its name and heritage. They provided more hands to handle the daily tasks of life or to expand their ability to forge a livelihood through their trade or craft. Most importantly, children were viewed as a gift from God and a sign of God’s favor. 

To be childless, then, was a source of great frustration, sorrow, and shame. The “neighbors” would have talked behind their backs, wondering what hidden sin was in their life.

Contrary to what you see preached on TV by many preachers and evangelists these days, here we have yet another case of how living for God doesn’t inoculate you against hard times or trouble (Job is another).

The outlook for Elizabeth having a child was not just bleak it was impossible because not only was she barren, she was very old. Just the kind of situation God revels stepping in to. Look on…

Luke 1:8–17 (ESV) — 8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

The prophets had foretold the birth of the Messiah, but they had also foretold of one who would come before him to prepare the way of the Lord. This man would announce the Messiah’s coming like a herald announces the coming of the king. John the Baptist was that man. That is the baby’s birth being foretold here.

Six months later that same angel, Gabriel, is sent to a young woman we all know named Mary with a message from the Lord: she would bear a son, his name would be Jesus, and he’d be called the son of the most high God. He would be the Messiah. And added to that, her old and barren relative, Elizabeth, was six months pregnant. 

Luke 1:36 (ESV) — 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.

Two births. Two babies. Two relatives. John and Jesus. They are both parts of the Christmas story.

What happens next is of special interest to us today…

Luke 1:39–45 (ESV) — 39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

I remember well when Angie was pregnant with our three girls and how they’d kick. Abbie, our first, seemed to do more than that. In the evenings it was as if she was performing somersaults. 

Unborn baby John the Baptist “leaped” in his mother’s womb. That word in Greek is used to describe skipping, as of sheep in the field. You know, those playful leaps of joy.

Why did Elizabeth’s baby react in this way? One Bible scholar writes…

The answer is twofold. First, there was a prophet in her womb, and this was his first prophecy. John the Baptist’s ministry was beginning three months before his birth. The Holy Spirit, with whom he was filled before birth, prompted his inner vault (v. 15, margin). 

John’s joyous leap was lived out in life some thirty years later when he compared his prophetic joy in announcing Christ with that of a friend of the groom at his wedding, saying, “The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete” (John 3:29).

Second, John leaped because he was overcome with the emotion of joy. The more exact sense is that he “leaped with delight.”

Don’t miss this: Jesus brought joy before he was even born! 

Jesus, God with us, brings hope and love, but he also brings joy.

When we think of joy, we probably think of the kind of joy based on circumstances or position or possessions. But the kind of joy Jesus brings infinitely towers above that. The joy he offers has to do with why he came and what he did for us. Look at what Matthew writes about an angel announcing the birth of Jesus to Joseph...

Matthew 1:18–21 (ESV) — 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” ***SAY THAT WITH ME***

Most of you know I grew up in Rockford, Alabama, but you may not know that when I was very small, we lived in Cullman, AL. I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember momma putting me in the bathtub many a night because Cullman has a nickname: tornado alley. I have nightmares to this day about tornadoes.

Imagine going outside and seeing an F5 coming right at you. It’s leveling everything and you know it’s going to destroy all you own and worse it’s going to destroy you. There is nothing you can do. Your situation is hopeless. But at just the last minute it miraculously dissipates, leaving you and your property untouched.

How would you react? With utter, uncontainable, joy.

That’s the kind of joy the angel was talking to Joseph about. Jesus came to save us from our sins. Our sins make us enemies with God and his holiness comes at us like a mighty tornado of wrath and judgment. 

But God, in his goodness and love, made a way for that wrath to be averted, for that tornado to evaporate.

It was through Jesus living the life we should have lived and dying the death we should have died that God satisfied his justice, making a way for us to know him and be in a relationship with Him. The apostle Peter wrote…

1 Peter 1:8–9 (NLT) — 8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

Jesus is the source of joy for the Christian.

John 16:22 (ESV) — 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

The kind of joy that Jesus gives is a…

Joy that defies our circumstances

Happiness comes and goes depending on our everyday experiences and those experiences, if we live long enough, include a lot of pain. Joy drawn from Jesus, God with Us, sees the big picture beyond the immediate pain. 

Contrary to what you may have heard or felt to be true, Christian joy isn’t about putting on a happy face when things are bad or pretending they’re good when they’re not. Tim Keller nails it when he says..

[The structure of Christian joy is we have a joy that overshadows the pain so we do not have to forget it, avoid it, or deny it in order to have joy…

Christians are far more pessimistic than other folks. In other words, they are far more realistic about evil. They are realistic about the suffering in this world. They are realistic about the fragmentation and the brokenness of it. They’re never surprised. They never have to tell themselves little stories that say, “This is just an anomaly.” They know this is exactly what life is made of. On the other hand, Christians have a truth that overshadows it, that when they focus on it… it overwhelms it.

A Christian says, “Look, the world is just as bad as this. I’m not going to try to numb my mind to it. I’m not going to tell myself little stories to try to get out from under the weight of it, but I have a truth; I have the gospel, the message of Christ… 

God’s Son came to earth… he die[d] to pay all my debts… he now live[s] to put his glory in me… he now reign[s] in heaven to control all things for me and all of history… he [is] returning to judge the living and the dead and to put everything right… If that’s true, then I have a truth that overshadows the problems. These problems, as bad as they are, are going to end someday. These troubles, as bad as they are, have a consolation that is stronger than them.”

Don’t you see?…

Christian joy keeps in touch with [reality]. Christian joy says, “What I’m going through right now is bad, what these people here are going through right now is bad, but the Lord Jesus has been through this. He suffered it a million times over, and he has dealt with it, and he is going to eliminate it.”

… There is a sense in which the new birth makes the heart bigger. Conversion makes the heart big enough that both peace and pain, hope and desolation, pain and joy are able to live in there together. That’s the reason why Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Always rejoicing, yet full of sorrow.”]

Conclusion: Finally, today, know that the kind of joy Jesus gives is a choice. It’s ours no matter what when we come to God through him. But it’s up to us to choose to focus on it, to let it flow in and out of us. I’m really preaching to myself here.

One pastor writes…

[…All I can say to you is, Christian friends, if there is a lack of joy in your lives, don’t ask God for more joy; it’s there. You have to ask yourself, “What am I doing to stifle it?”…if it’s true that God is joy himself, and if it’s true that the message of the gospel you have in your life is designed strictly for joy, then if you don’t have joy in your life, you are doing something active to stifle it. You’re doing something active to smother it.

Instead of saying, “Oh, God, give me some more joy,” what you need to say is, “What the heck am I doing to clog up this fountain which is in the middle of my soul or I wouldn’t even be a Christian?”]

The Psalmist wrote…

Psalm 32:1–2 (NLT) — 1 Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! 2 Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

Christianity is the religion of joy because through our Savior, Jesus, we have been delivered from sin and death! That is Christmas joy. And it is for us all…

Luke 2:10 (ESV) — 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

Are you people? Then this is for you. There’s no stipulations or fine print.

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