Can you feel it in the air? The countdown has begun, and we are quickly moving toward Christmas day and the celebration of the birth of Jesus! We are in the middle of a sermon series where we have been discovering the true heart of Christmas. It’s easy to get lost in all the gifts, decorations, and parties and miss the central focus of Christmas, especially as we get closer to Christmas day and the pressure is on to get things done. But instead of stress and pressure, this season is meant to remind us to slow down and remember that Jesus was born to bring the gifts of hope, love, joy, and peace.
The first week looking at hope, we were reminded that we are offered hope in the middle of our circumstances because of God’s faithfulness. Last week, we looked at the wonderful gift of love. When God sent His Son to be born, it was an expression of His unfailing and relentless love. Today, I want to introduce another piece of the heart of Christmas: A joy that is ours no matter the circumstances.
To begin our discussion today, I want to share a few different scenarios, and I want you to tell me which ones would bring you joy. If this would make you joyful, stand up. If not, stay seated. Are you ready?
Here is the first one: You go to your favorite restaurant, order your favorite meal, and discover a total stranger in the restaurant paid your bill. Joy? Stand up or stay seated.
Ok, next scenario. You wake up Christmas morning and find that it snowed four inches overnight. Joy? Or maybe pain because you now have to shovel it. Stand up or stay seated.
Last one. For Christmas dinner, everyone in your family made it this year and is together. Joy?
This week’s message is so important because, for many of us, our joy is reflective of this illustration. Our joy in life is largely connected to the circumstances in our lives. When things are going well, we feel good. When things are going poorly, we feel bad. Our joy comes and goes. But I believe one aspect of the heart of Christmas is that Jesus came so that our joy would not have to fluctuate with our environment.
As John began his gospel letter, he gave a different perspective on the birth of Jesus. Rather than tell us about the shepherds, magi, and manger, he gave us a big-picture explanation of what took place in Bethlehem – which is cause for joy no matter what we face.
14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
What John described is known as the incarnation. Coming from the Latin word carne (car-nay), which means flesh, the incarnation was God putting on skin and becoming one of us. He became human! Verse 14 says the Word became flesh. Word is capitalized because it’s the person of Jesus. He is called the Word because He perfectly embodies all of scripture in human flesh. When Jesus was born in the manger, He was God coming to live among us—as one of us—with skin and bone, flesh and blood.
This passage gives us two reasons for a joy that does not have to change with the seasons or shift with our situations. Joy can be a constant in our lives and a grounding attitude in the face of all the world has to offer. First one, simply put…
POINT # 1 – WE CAN HAVE JOY BECAUSE GOD CAME TO US
A common misconception people carry around with them is that to be reunited with God in right relationship with Him, we must work super hard to be perfect, or strive hard to make our way to Him. One of the greatest joy robbers in our lives is thinking we can never be good enough. We are broken and flawed people who hurt others, we make mistakes, and we live selfish lives. If we are relying on our abilities alone to earn a connection with God, it’s not going to happen. We will always be disappointed.
Author Paul Thigpen wrote about an encounter with his daughter in the book Discipleship Journal, and I can so relate with story as a mother. “I remember coming home one afternoon to discover that the kitchen I had worked so hard to clean only a few hours before, was now a terrible wreck. My young daughter had obviously been busy ‘cooking’ and the ingredients were scattered, along with dirty bowls and utensils, across the counters and floor. I was not happy with the situation. Then, as I looked a little more closely at the mess I spied a tiny note on the table, clumsily written and smeared with chocolaty fingerprints. The message was short—‘I’m makin somethin 4 you, dad’—and it was signed, ‘your angel.’ In the midst of that disarray (and mess), and despite my irritation, joy suddenly sprang up in my heart, sweet and pure. My attention had been redirected from the problem to the little girl I loved. As I encountered her in that brief note, I delighted in her. With her simple goodness in focus, I could take pleasure in seeing her hand at work in the situation that seemed otherwise disastrous.”
Many times, life can look like a messy disaster from our perspective. It can be hard for us to find reason for joy in our circumstances. However, if we look closely, we just might see God coming near to us like He did that first Christmas night to let us know He is making something of our lives when it looks like a mess, and we are tempted to feel hopeless.
Joy is at the heart of Christmas because knowing that we could never make it to Him on our own, God came to us. Christianity is the only religion in the world where the deity does what is necessary to unite with humanity, instead of the other way around. Paul emphatically makes this statement in the book of Romans as he insists we can be saved through Jesus.
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, (There it is. While we were still broken, messed up, selfish, and lost) Christ died for us.
For Paul, there is not a naughty list and a good list that we have to work hard to escape from or earn. The gift of God’s grace is offered to us generously without price because we could never afford it on our own. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. This is why the characters in the Christmas story are so overjoyed – from the shepherds in the field to Simeon at the temple – because the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah meant God had finally come to rescue us from our sin.
The second reason joy can be a constant reality for us in our lives is because of how much God loves us and is committed to transform us through His power.
14 So the Word became human (or flesh) and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
POINT #2 – GOD LOVES US JUST AS WE ARE AND TOO MUCH TO LEAVE US THAT WAY
God’s arrival among us should fill us with joy because not only did He come close to us, but He came because He loves us. Do you realize that you are loved by God? Not just tolerated or put up with but loved, deeply loved! In fact, John says this love that God has for us is like that of a father for His children.
The key to understanding this second reason for abiding joy is that Jesus came from the Father full of grace and truth. John writes about this grace and uses the Greek word charis (care-us), which means favor, kindness, or a gift of blessing. So like receiving a wrapped gift from someone that brings joy to our hearts, the gift of Jesus brings grace from God. We haven’t earned it. We don’t deserve it. But God offers it to us anyways and loves us just the way we are, and when we recognize it, that’s what fills us with joy.
Jesus also came full of truth. The Greek word John uses for truth is the word aletheia (a-leath-e-a), which means divine reality revealed to man or a straightforwardness. Jesus holds grace in one hand that allows us to be accepted into His family, and in the other hand He holds truth that shows us the areas of our lives that must be transformed to live the fullest life possible.
John continued to expound upon this idea in another book that he wrote, 1 John.
1 John 4:9-10
9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
John is saying the reason Jesus came to us and displayed His love to us is because He desires for us to find incredible joy in Him. In order for this to happen, for us to find incredible joy in Him, Jesus gives us the gift of truth and grace. It’s the most loving thing to do for another.
POINT #3 – JOY IS A RESULT OF GRACE
Grace is a word that shows up in the church a lot, but that is because it’s the way in which we are able to live with joy. As a mother, I feel like I can identify with these passages and how grace and truth lead to joy.
When my oldest was in elementary school, I got a call from the principle that he and two other boys on the bus were horsing around that morning pulling their knit hats over each other’s faces and my son made another boy’s nose bleed. When I picked him up from day care where he got off the bus that afternoon, I could tell he was terrified. He had stewed all day wondering how I would react to his getting in trouble. When he got into my car I calmly told him, “This can never happen again, but I am thankful you have the opportunity to learn this lesson now and not later when the stakes are higher.” He looked at me through tear-soaked eyes and said, “I thought you would be mad at me.” I looked at him and said, “I am showing you grace. Out of my love for you, I forgive you. And out of my love for you, I am telling you that you can change as you go forward.” A smile came across his face as he wiped his tears and said, “Thanks, mom. I won’t do it again.”
How many of us are like my son who can be thankful for grace? I know I am. Not just from my parents or friends or family, but especially from God. He didn’t have to forgive me or give my a second, and third, and forth and so many more chances. But that’s what He did. After all that I have done, I don’t deserve His love or forgiveness, but He loves me anyways and gave it to me.
Jesus came to reveal the truth about our lives and at the same time offer us grace to see things change, to us be better. We can trust Jesus to be honest with us about what we need to repent from. All of it. And it’s not easy, but, man, is it so worth it because Jesus is also committed to extending grace and mercy to remind us that we are loved beyond measure. Receive the correction of God through Christ, and at the same time, receive the grace of God through Christ.
Our heavenly Father sent Jesus to a manger in Bethlehem because He wanted to dwell among us to demonstrate His amazing grace and life-changing truth, and if you have truly experienced that, then you have joy. Therefore, we can experience joy in our lives no matter the circumstances. We can be confident in knowing that God is with us, and God is for us.
One last thing, the grace of joy is contagious. Holy joy will strengthen you, it will beautify you, and give you an influence on the lives of others. So this Christmas may you come to find at the heart of this holiday a deep and abiding joy because of the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus that has power to change us and to change the world.