Advent Reflection (21) – God of Joy

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Introduction

Genuine joy is that place in the heart where love and expectation, patience and affection, worship and purpose and answered prayer and perfect peace all unite together to produce exhilaration inexplicable. Joy is filled with cheerfulness and gladness and beatitude and blessedness. Genuine joy is only experienced, never adequately described by mere words.

It is to this subject that we turn in this reflection. As we journey through Advent, we have explored ‘Hope’ and ‘Peace’ already and tomorrow, on the last Sunday of Advent, we will explore ‘Love’ together. True joy is something many people never experience in life. Of course, we have all laughed and cried, rejoiced and wept. Our hearts have lamented in sorrow and later erupted in celebration. But genuine joy goes much further and plows much deeper than mere ‘happiness of the heart’. 

Joy brings to our heart what Resurrection Life gives to our corruptible body. 

Joy is a spiritual experience that transcends the mundane world around us. 

Joy brings to our heart what Resurrection Life gives to our corruptible body. Joy is a spiritual experience that transcends the mundane world around us. 

Though we have not yet experienced ultimate bodily Resurrection Life, we can still find abundant joy, within our present corruptible body, if we are willing to yield to and receive the source of all “joy unspeakable.” May this Advent Season see the dawn of ‘Joy’ in your heart in a new and living way.

He who binds to himself a joy doth the winged life destroy. But he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in Eternity’s sunrise.  (William Blake)

God of Joy?

The way we live shows the way we think about God – in fact it shows us what kind of ‘God’ we believe in. When you think of God, is ‘joy’ one of the first things that comes to mind? Not the joy that you have as you think of Him, but that He inherently is Joy in the same way that He is ‘Peace’ or He is ‘Love’ or He is ‘Light’.

The way we live shows the way we think about God – in fact it shows us what kind of ‘God’ we believe in. When you think of God, is ‘joy’ one of the first things that comes to mind? Not the joy that you have as you think of Him, but that He inherently is Joy in the same way that He is ‘Peace’ or He is ‘Love’ or He is ‘Light’.

There are two very intriguing verses in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 1:11 and 1 Timothy 6:15 God is described as ‘blessed’. This is the only place in the New Testament where this happens. The idea is incredible! God is not ‘lucky’, or ‘happy’ or ‘smiley’ – all those words are weak compared to Paul’s description of God as ‘blessed’. The word actually means something like ‘inherently content and blissful and deeply joyful’! Blessing and joy is not just something that God gives, it is something that God lives! He IS joy. There is a beauty, contentedness, purpose, love and power IN God that IS ‘joy’! Our joy flows from not just what God does for us – but who He is – because what He does flows from who He is at His heart!

Blessing and joy is not just something that God gives, it is something that God lives! He IS joy. There is a beauty, contentedness, purpose, love and power IN God that IS ‘joy’! Our joy flows from not just what God does for us – but who He is – because what He does flows from who He is at His heart!

 What is your ‘notion’ of God? Be careful as you think or talk about this, though. Imagine that the only thing that could tells others what you felt about God was the way you spoke, lived and treated other people – because what you do displays what you believe much more accurately than what you say! So address the question differently – what kind of God does your life tell other people you believe in? Is ‘joy’ part of the description?

Nehemiah 9:9-12 (NRSV)

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

God’s joy is seen in Christ.

Whoever wrote the book of Hebrews had one purpose in mind – to help the listeners understand that the Lord Jesus was better than everything and anything and worthy of worship. The book compares Jesus to many things – the prophets, angels, the sabbath, the law, Melchizedek. Jerusalem, the old priesthood etc. At the beginning of chapter 12, as we reach the climax of the book, the author wants to make sure that listeners keep their focus on the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3, NRSV. [Emphasis added]

These really are remarkable words – that Christ endured the cross because of the ‘joy’ set before Him. That does NOT mean that the Lord Jesus enjoyed the cross! He endured the cross because of the JOY that was set before Him. What was that joy? Well of course it was His Father’s purpose and plan to redeem and transform the world and to eradicate the power of sin once and for all! That means that we are part of the joy that Christ saw. What an amazing thought. Somehow, God’s joy is seen in Christ’s purposes on the earth. We hear Jesus say that His desire is to do the will of His Father. We see Jesus embrace affirm and welcome women. We see Him scoop children up in His arms. We see His birth announced to the outcasts and the poor. We see Him keep company with tax collectors and sinners – the undesirables. He was the type of person that got invited to weddings and who people loved to have for dinner. Here is a joyous,loving, welcoming and embracing God, seen in His Son, the Lord Jesus.

Somehow, God’s joy is seen in Christ’s purposes on the earth. We hear Jesus say that His desire is to do the will of His Father. We see Jesus embrace affirm and welcome women. We see Him scoop children up in His arms. We see His birth announced to the outcasts and the poor. We see Him keep company with tax collectors and sinners – the undesirables. He was the type of person that got invited to weddings and who people loved to have for dinner. Here is a joyous,loving, welcoming and embracing God, seen in His Son, the Lord Jesus.

How can a cross, full of pain and suffering, be a route to joy? Think about the ways in which the fact that God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit work together through the conception, birth, life, death, resurrection and promised return of Christ changes any notion of a ‘forced’ or abusive understanding of the cross. 

Who do you want to see free so much that you would be willing to, as a family, go through such pain and suffering so that they could be free? Would your ‘joy’ at the thought of their freedom make the sacrifice worth it? In what ways does ‘future joy’ motivate your current actions? How might you allow joy for others become a motivation for you?

There is great victory and strength in joy.

Knowing that God is inherently Joy and that Christ shows us His joy is wonderful – but so what? Somehow the ‘truth’ of joy has to make its way into our hearts and souls if it is to have any lasting impact on our lives. 

Nehemiah 8 and 9 are vitally important in understanding how ‘joy’ gets into and stays in our lives. Go back and read the passage. The context is really important – and we will come to that later – but note the powerful words of Nehemiah and Ezra to the people – ‘The Joy of the Lord is your strength’.

Take time to think about and consider the ways in which the joy of the Lord is your strength? Have there been times when you have made a conscious decision to focus on God, His will and His purpose and allow your circumstances and situation to be seen AFTER you have looked at and worshipped God? What, in your experience, gets in the way of your ‘joy’ most often? 

Stop and deliberately worship and praise God right now – no matter how you feel or what you face. Do so audibly – intentionally.

Christ’s Coming and Promised Return is the foundation of our joy.

As we go through Advent, you will see the pattern that is emerging. Our hope and our peace and now our joy are not, in the first instance, based on how we feel or what we have done. They all flow from Who God is and what Christ has done. The foundation of our joy is not whether we have had a good day or not, or whether our families are perfect or not. The foundation of our joy is that Christ has come, what He has done and that He will come again – and this is the reason that the Advent Season is so important to us.

Consider the following thoughts – and take time to allow the points being made to sink in. Don’t worry if you do not get through them all – instead focus on the ones that stand out for you – or use this part of the guide as your personal study aid through the rest of the week.

  1. Read Luke 2:9-11 – what did the angels announce concerning the first coming of Jesus – why had He come? Now read Acts 1:11 – what did the angels say to the disciples as they watched Jesus ascend about the Second Coming? How are the two connected? Where do we find ourselves in history in relation to these comings and what does that mean for how we should live?
  2. Look at John 15:11-13. Why did Jesus come? What does it mean, from this passage, to have ‘complete joy’? Where does it come from and what can we do about it? How does this relate to Nehemiah 8:9-12 and the whole question of obedience? Does obedience bring joy? How does it do that? 
  3. Look at the three stories of Luke 15 – the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son. Actually the stories central figures are not the coin, the sheep and the son, they are the bride, the shepherd and the father! If these parables are about the joy of finding something that was lost, what does this tell us about God?
  4. Look at Hebrews 12:11-15. Discipline is never ‘fun’ or ‘joy’. In what way, then can it make us joyous? Imagine a great musician learning scales – hardly fun – but could that maestro play a symphony without learning scales and how to read music? If our lives for God are the ‘symphony’ then does it make a difference to the ‘habits’ of obedience and discipline? Why do you think we end up focussing on the the scales (the habits and discipline) rather than the symphony (living our lives to the glory of God)? What areas of your life is God disciplining and challenging at the moment and how can you yeild to him?
  5. Paul was able to be joyous not matter what was going on in his life (read Philippians 4:10-14). Such deep rooted confidence and assurance has to come from beyond circumstances – it has to come from God. Think about the issues of surrender and submission and repentance. What do you need to hand over to God? What situations do you need to ‘master’? How can you rise above the struggles and the sorrows and rest in the assurance and joy of God’s power and presence in your life continually?

Just as we have peace and hope, so we have joy when we have Christ in our hearts. Take some time to wait in God’s presence and ask Him to refocus your eyes and heart on Him and what He has done for you. This week, allow God to remind you of one thing that is yours ‘in Christ’ everyday and let that truth be your focus and your attention throughout the week. 

Ask God to give you five people whom you can pray for, think about, serve and encourage over the Christmas period. How can you show them God’s joy? Why not have them for a drink or a meal, go and visit them, let them know you are praying for them and invite them to come to our meetings over Christmas to hear about and meet the God you love and worship.

Prayer of Joy

I cannot know joy,

unless You are its Source;

I only stumble from one slight happiness to another,

and I become like a feather in the wind;

but if You are my Source,

my Lord,

then Your joy will be the current that keeps me on course

Help me always to live in the light of Your love and grace!

Teach me to see Your joy

through each person,

to cradle and nurture a sense of joy in the world

and in their lives.

Let me see the buds of joy and hope in the world around me.

help me to search for and see Your image in others,

To honour them,

To cherish them.

To be willing to serve and learn from them.

Take me from the centre and take Your place, Lord Jesus.

You are the Master of my emotions.

You are the Lord of my past.

You are the God who is here.

You are the Guide for my tomorrows.

Help me to live in the power of the only promise that matters

That You are here – and that You will never leave.

May I discover again that the Great and Mighty God

The all seeing, all knowing, all present God

Is with me here and now.

Remind me of Your presence as I live between two comings – the first when Your Son came as a Child and the second, when He will come as the Great and Powerful King. May the reality of Your comings be the root of my joy.

Amen

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