Read Luke 2:13-14
Joy is fun, funny, happy and attractive. She’s the main character in this year’s Disney/Pixar blockbuster ‘Inside Out’. In the film she’s a person but actually she’s the personification of an emotion – one of the five emotions inside the mind of Riley Anderson. The movie is interesting, entertaining and clever. If you’ve not seen it, get it on DVD or watch on Netflix this Christmas. You’ll love it!
We all appreciate being around joyful people and being in an atmosphere of joy. A few weeks ago we had a Jubilee Party in York, celebrating 50 years since David and Anne Watson arrived in York to start the work in St Cuthbert’s which continues in The Belfrey today. It was a great day of fun and thanksgiving, culminating in a wonderful service in St Michael le Belfrey Church. Quite a lot of people have spoken to me since about the day and especially the service, and almost all of them have talked about joy. How the day seemed to be infused with joy. And they were right. It was a fantastically joyful day.
When Jesus was born that first Advent, there was much joy. God sent a choir of angels, trumpeting the arrival of his Son as they sung ‘Glory in the highest!‘ Shepherds returned home, having met the new baby and found themselves ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard’ (Lk 2:20). Mary and Joseph ‘marvelled’ at these events and at the words spoken over him when they presented Jesus in the temple, a few days after his birth (Lk 2:33). Wise Men journeyed a huge distance across desert and plain to see the newborn King, led by a star, and when found him they bowed down, worshipped and presented gifts. Matthew at one point describes them being so full of joy that he says they were ‘overjoyed’ (Mt 2:10) – because they were brimming over with joy!
So joy is at the heart of the Advent and Christmas season. We celebrate what God did two thousand years ago in sending Christ, and in the fact that Christ is alive and present and brings joy through his transformative kingdom today.
So what is this joy that we’re celebrating? Is it an emotion, as the ‘Inside Out’ movie suggests? Not really. There is a main emotion behind joy, which is happiness, but happiness is fleeting as it comes and goes with circumstances. No, according to the bible, joy is more a state of being. It’s a sense of deep contentedness that is not dependent on what’s going on around me. It comes from having a secure identity. For the follower of Christ, it comes from knowing Him. From knowing we’re unconditionally loved by a God who made us, values us, and sent his Son to order that we might live in friendship with him, in a relationship of forgiveness and love.
Rick Warren helpfully defines joy like this:
‘Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.’
So Advent and Christmas is definitely a time for joy! But so is every day, in every season. In fact to a large extent we choose joy. As we come to Jesus Christ and are filled with his joy, so we have a choice each day whether we are going to live in joy, exhibit joy and give it away. Or not. What do you chose?
ACTION: Re-read slowly Rick Warren’s quote above about joy and search your heart and see if there is a particular response you need to make today. Then get your diary/calendar and look at your plans for the next few days. Write the word ‘JOY’ either next to each entry or at the top of each day, to remind you to choose joy – especially in situations that look like they could be a bit difficult!
PRAY: Come before Christ today, and thank him for the joy that comes from knowing him. Ask him to give your more joy as you choose joy, and that today and in these coming days, like the Wise Men, joy would bubble out of you.