(This sermon was preached on Sunday, November 25, 2007, at the Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY. It’s based on Luke 1:39-56. You can listen to the sermon in its entirety by clicking here.)
A conference at a Presbyterian church in Omaha. People were given helium filled balloons and told to release them at some point in the service when they felt like expressing the joy in their hearts. Since they were Presbyterians, they weren’t free to say “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord.” All through the service balloons ascended, but when it was over 1/3 of the balloons were unreleased.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years. His mind, wit and work earned him the unofficial title of “the greatest justice since John Marshall.” At one point in his life, Justice Holmes explained his choice of a career by saying: “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.”
The issue of joy is nothing new to Christians — at least in theory. From Psalm 100 which says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:1-2, ESV) to when the Apostle Paul exhorts the Philippian church to “Rejoice in the LORD always — and again I say REJOICE!” Even when Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit, joy is nestled in as the second on the list right behind love.
What is joy? Merriam-Webster describes joy as:
1 a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight b: the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety2: a state of happiness or felicity : bliss3: a source or cause of delight.
That’s a very interesting definition, isn’t it?
If joy is a command of God all through the Scriptures, and it erupts from the “prospect of possessing what one desires” and is a “source or cause of delight,” how come we find so little expressed joy among God’s people?
1. Seize the joy!
Now when I say this to you, what do you think? There is really no shortage of people out in our culture, on our TVs, on the Internet, and in our bookstores (even Christian ones) telling you what you should do to bring yourself joy. Some write books to tell you that once you discover your true purpose in life, then you will live a life of happiness and joy. The majority of our books that are out now under the banner of Christianity would make you believe that if you see yourself in a better light then God will bless you. Some will even say that if you smile, put yourself last, and live a life of excellence, think positively about yourself.
Others believe that joy is simply an emotion to be found. Some Christians live their lives this way — going from one emotional experience to another (and from one church to another) hunting for the next spiritual high — making them more interested in the spiritual experience than being a committed follower of Christ.
So is joy simply finding your purpose in life so you can live your dreams and feel better about yourself? Is joy simply an emotional to be had? Or is it more?
In order for you to seize the joy, you have to know where to look! Remember last week when we saw Mary’s reaction to the angel’s message about her having not just any child, but the Christ Child? She was a virgin and a teenage kid. Her response was simple: “Let it be to me according to your Word.” For Mary, seizing the joy was steeped in obedience to the Word of God. And the centerpiece of the Word of God was the One whom Mary would bring into the world, Jesus Christ. So if you truly want to seize the joy, seize Christ who is our joy. Listen to the words of Martin Janus, whom J.S. Bach put to music:
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.
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