The angels appeared to the shepherds, bringing with them joyful news of Christ's birth. Bob Lepine shares a special Christmas message about living in the fullness of Christ's joy.
The angels appeared to the shepherds, bringing with them joyful news of Christ's birth. Bob Lepine shares a special Christmas message about living in the fullness of Christ's joy.
Bob: You know what day it is; right?
[Music: Joy to the World]
It is Christmas Day—Thursday, December 25th. This is FamilyLife Today. I’m Bob Lepine, along with Dennis Rainey. I hope you’re having a merry Christmas.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition—the Christmas Day edition. We’re glad that you have tuned in, spending part of your Christmas Day with us.
I have to tell you the theme of what we’re going to consider today is something that, I think, is absent from too much of our Christian faith.
Dennis: No doubt about it. In fact, I think a lot of us need to tell our face that we need to have joy.
Bob: Tell our face that we’re saved; right? [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, we’re saved and our eternal destiny is secure because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. This sacred holiday of Christmas—I hate to say that it’s second to Easter—but, without Christmas, Easter can’t be a reality either—so it’s equal to Easter.
Bob: Well, of course, without Easter, the significance of Jesus’ birthday would not matter. I mean, if it weren’t for what He did at Easter, we wouldn’t be remembering His birth.
Bob: So I think you’re right—I think the manger and the cross are tied together.
Dennis: They are and, as our listeners know, all this month, we’ve been talking about Barbara’s Adorenaments®. I hope your Christmas tree has the Savior names of Jesus Christ hanging on it.
And I hope you’ve had a chance to talk to your kids about “joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
Bob: Yes, I really do think that—of all of the fruit of the Spirit—joy is an apologetic for our faith that I think is missing from our witness, for many of us.
Dennis: Let me ask you a question because we’re getting ready to listen to a sermon that you gave, around Christmas time, about six years ago. In this message, do you give a comprehensive air-tight description of joy?—because, honestly, Bob, I think joy is one of the most misunderstood terms that are thrown around in the community of faith in Christ. Have you got a definition that you can give our listeners?
Bob: Well, it’s been six years, but I think I do. Let’s listen and, if I don’t, by the end of what we hear today, you can wrap it up for us; okay?
Dennis: Okay; I’ll be able to take care of it with an air-tight description of joy.
Bob: This morning, I want to talk about the theme of joy. It’s really central to the message of Christmas. If you stop and think about it—think about how often, in the Christmas carols and hymns that we sing, the word “joy” or “rejoice” shows up:
“…tidings of comfort and”—what? —“joy…”
“Good Christian men, rejoice…”
“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…”
“Joyful, all ye nations, rise, join the triumph of the skies...”
“…the mountains in reply echo back their joyous strains.”
“The thrill of earth a weary world rejoices...”
“Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we…”
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel!”
And, of course, “Joy to the world…”
Part of the reason that joy is so central to everything that we celebrate at Christmas is because, in part, of what the angels told the shepherds in Luke, Chapter 2, in verse 10—
—when he told them, first of all, “Don’t be afraid.” He said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, for unto you is born this day”—and, by the way, it’s—“great joy which shall be for all men; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
Now, anytime a baby is born—almost any time a baby is born—there is joy. I mean, when your babies were born, you had joy; didn’t you? And when a close friend has a birth of a newborn baby, there’s typically joy among those who know that baby. But here, the angel says this joy is going to be “for all men,”—that the birth of this baby is not just joy because a woman’s having a baby in a stable in Bethlehem, but there’s something about this baby that is going to bring joy to all people.
So, with that in mind, I wanted us to take some time just to reflect on this theme of joy, and why it’s tied to Christmas, and how it ought to be tied to everything about our lives.
Now, you need to know that we can only scratch the surface on the subject of joy. I don’t know if you’ve stopped to do this—but if you ever look through the Bible at how many times “joy,” “rejoicing,” “gladness”—how those themes show up—do a word study sometime on those words: “joy” or “rejoice” or “gladness.” Get out your Strong’s Commentary. If you’ve got Bible study software, type those in and just see how many times those words show up and in what kinds of environments and situations they show up. Here’s what you’ll find—you’ll find that the theme of joy is all through the Bible—it’s everywhere / it’s central.
I don’t know why I never thought about this before—but you know, we think about redemption, and salvation, and the gospel—and how that is central to the message of God. But, in the midst of all of that, God is saying: “Look! There ought to be joy here!” Joy is central to what God has in mind.
Now the Bible, as I said, talks a lot about joy—you know that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. You know that we’re to come into God’s presence with joy and with thanksgiving. Then, when we go out, we’re to go out with joy and be led forth in peace. “We’re to rejoice in the Lord always; and, again, we say rejoice!” We’re to serve the Lord with joy and with gladness. It says, when children are living righteous lives, that parents know no greater joy than that. John says about his spiritual children: “I have no greater joy than to see my children walking in the truth.” We could go on and on with passages that you’re familiar with that talk about joy—you get the idea.
I think the question is: “Why is this theme so central to the Scriptures? Why is this here?” I believe—and here is what I’m going to suggest, as we go through this—I believe that God created all of us with a longing for joy. In the heart of every person in this room and every person in the world, there is a longing to experience joy.
Part of the reason God put that in your heart is because real joy comes in a reconciled connected relationship with God. God put the desire for joy in your heart to drive you in His direction / to press you toward Him. One more verse—this is one that may be less familiar—Psalm 63, verse 3 says: “But the righteous shall be glad. They shall exult before God. They shall be jubilant with joy.”
That’s a picture of what God—He puts a desire in our hearts for joy; and then He says, “And I’ve got it—it’s here.” I don’t know much about hunting, but the salt lick idea—you put salt out there, and the deer lick it, and then they go for water; right? Is that how it works? The idea, I think, is that God has put in our heart—He has salted us for joy.
Then He says: “It’s here. Here’s where you’ll find fulfillment.” So he puts the desire there to drive us to Himself. Let’s, first of all, define what we’re talking about when we’re talking about joy. Joy is different than—we’ll talk about what it is—but we have to first start by talking about what it’s not. Joy is different than happiness; isn’t it? I mean, that’s pretty simple / pretty elementary.
I heard a British gentleman speak one time. He said, in England—in the old days—they used to have an expression where they would say, “May the haps be with you.” What they were saying was, “May you have good fortune that would bring you happiness.” He said: “Tied to happiness were your circumstances. If your fortunes were good, you would have happiness.” So, “May the haps be with you,” was a way of saying, “May stuff go well so that you’ll have happiness.”
I went, online, to see if I could find verification for that. What I did find that was interesting is—that the number of people that are using the term “haps” today, just to talk about—as a short-hand for what’s happening in their life—so lots of blogs that are: “Here’s the haps,” or “What’s the haps?” Those are the expressions being used. But happiness is tied to circumstance. If you’re having a good day and things are going well, you’re happy.
Joy is different—joy is deeper. When we talk about joy, we are talking about a sense of peace and well-being in your soul that results in contentment and may result in some experience of exuberance—not always. When you think of joyful people, you think of somebody jumping, or dancing, or feeling exuberant; but you’ve all experienced that quiet, contented, soul-satisfying joy—that there’s no jumping or dancing going on. There might be in some circumstances; but in others, there’s just a sense of peace and well-being in your soul—a contentedness that is great soul-satisfaction and joy.
We experienced some of that at Thanksgiving this year. Our whole family flew to Seattle and had a great time celebrating Thanksgiving together, as a family. We went to the Pike Market, near downtown Seattle, and did the shopping around there. We went to see a movie together. We had one night, where we just sat around and we shared memories and talked about family stuff. Mary Ann said, later on, that was probably the highlight of the trip for her—was just sitting around with the family, talking about family and memories.
Now, I have to tell you—I have been in cities that I think are nicer than Seattle. Seattle’s a nice town, but I’ve been in nicer places. I’ve stayed in nicer hotels than the hotel we stayed in. I’ve eaten better food than what we ate that week, although the food was fine. I’ve had better weather and a better climate than we experienced. I think nice cities, and nice hotels, and nice food, and nice climate are all nice things.
But we had joy, not because of that stuff—we experienced a taste of joy based on the relationships—not based on our circumstances or our environment. You’ve heard couples—and some of you have said this—I’ve heard couples, who have said: “You know, back when we first got married, we were so poor we lived in a small apartment. All we had to eat were beanie weenies and all of that.” You know? You get the whole thing; but they say, “Those were some of the happiest times of our lives.”
What are they saying? They’re saying there’s something about joy that transcends your experiences. Now let me just ask you: “When I was talking about our family being together, and what we experienced, did some of you resonate with that just a little bit and have just kind of a taste of the joy?”
As I’m describing it, you’re thinking—there’s this longing in all of our hearts, where we say: “I want that! I crave that.” I mean, you’re glad for me—that we had a taste of it—but you’re also thinking, “Where do I get some of that?” I think that that longing is in everyone’s heart.
The first thing I’m suggesting this morning is that joy is deeper than happiness. The second thing I want to suggest this morning is that I believe that everybody, in this room, and everybody, in the world, has this deep desire / a heart longing to experience joy. I believe that that longing really is what motivates the decision-making of your life on a day-in/day-out basis.
Follow me on this—I believe that your longing for joy is the motivating driver for every choice you make, day in and day out. You’re making decisions that you think—either consciously or subconsciously—that you calculate, “If I do these things, it will maximize my experience of joy.”
I believe, not only is the heart longing for joy, fundamentally and primarily—I think it drives everybody’s life. I think the decisions you make are based on, “Will this bring me joy?” When you got up this morning, you got dressed to come to church. Somewhere, in the motivational structure of your life, was this thought, “I will have more joy if I get up this morning, and go and get dressed, and come to church than if I sleep in.”
I know some of you are thinking, “No, I was actually thinking I’d have more joy if I slept in this morning.” [Laughter] But, really, deep down, whether you’re here out of a sense of longing and desire to be with God’s people and to hear God’s Word preached and you just couldn’t wait to get here and be with everybody else; or whether you’re here because you thought, “Well, I kind of have a duty and a responsibility.” Whatever it was—the calculation in your mind was, “I’ll have more joy at the end of the day if I do that than if I don’t.”
When you go to work tomorrow, you’ll be going to work because you believe something about going to work will bring more joy than if you don’t go to work tomorrow—whether it’s a paycheck, whether it’s keeping your job, whatever it is. Something’s calculated to say, “I’ll be happier / I’ll have more joy, at the end of the day, if I do that.”
When you go out to lunch today and you decide not to have the dessert, there will be something in your motivational structure that says, “I will have more joy if I don’t eat the dessert today than if I do eat the dessert.” Or if you do eat the dessert, you’ll think, “I’ll have more joy if I do that!” It’s all based on what’s going to bring the most joy.
What I’m suggesting is that every choice you make—everything you do or don’t do—everything you eat or don’t eat—everything you ingest, or smoke, or snort, or don’t ingest, or don’t smoke, or don’t snort—all of that is fueled by a longing for joy. Everyone, on planet earth, is doing whatever we do, at any given moment, because we think, “That thing will maximize our joy.”
I’m also suggesting that it’s God who put that longing in your heart because, as I think we’ll see, God designed it to lead us—not to food, or to friends, or to family—but back to Him. C.S. Lewis said this: “Joy is the serious business of heaven,”—I like that quote.
Which brings me to the third thing I want to talk about—I want to talk about where joy comes from and where it doesn’t come from. When I was a kid—at Christmas, I remember this progression that took place every year in my life. The progression was this—back, right after Thanksgiving, you started making your list of what you wanted for Christmas. That started to maybe generate some longing in your heart for the realization of joy that would come when you got what you wanted.
Now, the things I wanted for Christmas had been not so subtly implanted in my brain from watching cartoons on Saturday mornings; okay? You younger people here need to know that, when your parents were growing up, the only time you could see cartoons was an hour after school and on Saturday morning.
I know, now, you’ve got Cartoon Disney, and Nickelodeon, and the Cartoon Network—you can watch a cartoon any time you want—but in those days, getting up to watch the cartoons on Saturday morning, or watching Huckleberry Hound, and Deputy Dog, and those guys right after school—Rocky and Bullwinkle—right after school—I mean, this was big stuff! And the toymakers knew it. Right before Christmas, they were showing 30 seconds of the flashiest toys—the desire was in your heart to want those things.
So you made out your list / you put the toys you wanted on that list. That was the first part of the progression. The longing was beginning to evolve in your heart. You put the list together and now, you’ve got weeks to go before Christmas. Every day, the longing intensifies. You think, “Should I look under my parents’ bed?”—right? Or you think, “Should I try to see if I’m going to get it?” You pick up the package and do this—or you try to figure out what it is.
Then there’s Christmas morning. On Christmas morning, we got up early. I was always up early. My parents would say, “We’ll wait ‘til 8:00 to open the presents.” I said: “No! You can’t wait ‘til 8:00.” I wanted to start at 5:00 on Christmas morning; right? Now, that I’m a parent, I understand what a crazy thought that was—[Laughter]—but I wanted to get up and get it!
You’d go down and you’d get your presents. You’d have to wait patiently until the one that was yours was passed to you. You’d rip off the paper and there it is!—the thing you’d been longing, more often than not, the thing that was on your list—that you’d been longing for—is there. There’s this rush—this flood of: “Yes!! Joy! I have what is going to bring me great joy and happiness—this toy!”
I remember, one year, it was a racetrack that I got. The controllers for the race cars had steering wheels on them. To make the car go around the track, you had to steer the wheel in order to get the car to go around the track. If you were racing with a friend, I mean, it was a real test of skill. It wasn’t just that you had a faster car—you were skillfully driving your car around the track.
I was excited to get it and I got it. We spent the rest of the morning setting it up, down on a table down in the basement. We got the track all set up and, finally, it’s ready to play—and you can put it on there.
Man, oh man, you’re steering! You’ve got the speed on one side / you’ve got the steering wheel on the other. It was a test of skill, and I loved it!—for about an hour-and-a-half. And then—what had looked, on the TV, like it was going to be the thing that would make me happy and joyful for so long—started to feel the fade real quick. You started to just drain out and you started to feel—interestingly, you started to feel kind of empty and kind of lonely—
—because this thing you thought was going to satisfy—it did for a minute or half a day—and then it just didn’t happen. There were still glimpses—you’d come home from school, a week or two later. You’d go down and play with the car for about 15 or 20 minutes and then get bored with that. A month later, the cars are boxed up in a box somewhere because you need the table for something else and, besides, “You never play with that thing anyway”; and it’s gone.
That progression, year in and year out—longing, followed by an experience of joy, followed by loneliness or emptiness—what I experienced on Christmas morning, year after year, I think, becomes the regular rhythm of life for a lot of people. I think this is how many people are living their lives, whether it’s living for the weekend or whether it’s living for the next promotion, or whether it’s living for the next moment or memory.
The rhythm of their life is expectation, and longing, fulfillment, and then a sense that: “That didn’t really satisfy the way I thought it was going to satisfy.”
Bob: Well, we’re going to cut in here, as we’ve been considering the subject of joy, here on Christmas Day. I almost hate that we have to cut in because what we’re doing here—
Dennis: You really liked your message, Bob! [Laughter]
Bob: The rest of the story, which our listeners are going to have to hear tomorrow, really talks about the source of joy—and how you get out of the trap of that experiential, momentary euphoria and get to know real joy.
Dennis: Yes! Here’s what I don’t want our listeners to miss, here on Christmas Day—because this is a great day to apply this.
You mentioned that joy is found in Christmas hymns / it’s found throughout the Bible. God created us to be joyful.
Dennis: Here’s the deal—because of Christmas Day, it ought to be found in us. I think, here on Christmas—if your family is still gathered together, maybe over dinner tonight or a little bit later on / sitting by the fire—maybe what you ought to do is just push back and say, “What is the source of joy in your life?” Because we’re going to hear Bob finish his message tomorrow. You’ll be able to find out where he says, not only joy comes from, but how we can maintain it in the midst of life.
Bob: Well, and we started our program here today by hearing our friends Keith and Kristen Getty singing that classic Charles Wesley Christmas song, Joy to the World, which, as you know, is actually about the Second Advent, not about the first.
I don’t know how many of our listeners realize that—Joy to the World is really a declaration of the second coming of Christ—not the first coming of Christ—but we sing it at Christmastime.
I think, as we wrap things up today, that’s how we ought to wrap it up, hearing Keith and Kristen Getty—and Deborah on the fiddle and their whole band—singing Joy to the World because that’s what this day really is all about. So, here are the Gettys—Joy to the World. We hope you have a wonderful merry Christmas. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
[Music: Joy to the World]
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
©Song: Joy to the World
Artist: Keith and Kristyn Getty
Album: Joy: An Irish Christmas (p) 2011 Hal Leonard Publishing Corp.
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