Advent Produces Joy A Sermon by Dr. Neil Chadwick As we progress through this year's season of Advent, we are learning that the awareness of Advent provides HOPE, Advent is prompted by LOVE, and today we add, Advent produces unparalled JOY. This joy was expressed by the Magi from Babylon of whom it was said, "They rejoiced with exceeding great joy." The association of JOY with Christmas is well known especially when it comes to the children - theirs is a joy of opening presents. On the other hand, for most adults, Christmas brings the joy of family relationships - we get to be together and enjoy one another for a few stress-free moments. And there are many other kinds of joy that we experience from time to time. There's the joy experienced at harvest time when we rejoice in the abundance of God's provision. (Only a few of us experience this firsthand as we are no longer an agriculturally based society.) There's a special joy that comes when we suddenly find someone or something that had been lost. (Have you ever noticed that you always find something in the very last place you look for it?) And there's the joy that comes when there is a victory - winning brings ecstasy and celebration, whether it be a war, a sports contest, a business deal or the lottery. (This kind of joy is only mitigated by the realization that whenever there's a winner there are also losers.) In addition, there is a joy brought about by satisfaction when a job is well done. (Especially when there is a financial bonus attached to the commendation.) There can be a second hand joy that comes from empathy, we "Rejoice with them that do rejoice." (Romans 12:15) (This is sometimes difficult as we rather look upon the blessed person with envy, not joy.) There's also the joy of anticipation such as expressed in this Bible verse, "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) And of course there's also a twisted kind of joy that we call gloating, when we get pleasure when someone else meets with misfortune. While speaking of joy, we want to carefully distinguish between joy and some of its look- alikes. We know that joy should not be confused with artificially produced pleasure. Today we're told that happiness is related to chemical properties in the brain. If we have an abundance of serotonin, we will be happy. Pharmaceutical companies have graciously come to our aid by providing a whole class of drugs designed to boost serotonin levels so we can be happy and successful. These are called "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors" (SSRIs) - the most common are paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft). However, today there are several more: citalopram, escitalopram oxalate, fluvoxamine maleate, and dapoxetine. We are also told that serotonin levels can be raised without the use of drugs. One counselor offers these suggestions: stop to smell the coffee brewing, listen to your favorite music, laugh at everything – especially at yourself, look at art around you, go for walk at lunch, invite an old friend for dinner, give away one of your most successful strategies, stretch…move… breathe deeply, remember a time when you were good to yourself – and repeat it snack on trail mix or something for good energy, tell a story or invite one from someone nearby, plan one thing you most enjoy to do today While we may agree that feelings of pleasure may be induced by drugs, we make a clear distinction between pleasure and joy. We all know that happiness is an emotion that occurs when good things are happening around us. Joy is a spiritual reality that comes from within us. That's why the Scripture instructs us to rejoice in tribulation, because we know that God works all things according to our good, as determined by an all wise, all loving God. So we are able to "rejoice in the Lord always," and say with Job of old, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:21) But the truth is, of all the different kinds of joy, there are few joys that can match the joy accompanying the birth of a baby. Every parent in the room has experienced this, and on the other hand those who have endured the tragedy of a miscarriage or death of a new born know too well that that is probably the most difficult of all sorrows. The Bible notes what we may want to call "birth-pang amnesia." "A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world." (John 16:21) In Luke's birth narratives, we hear the angel speaking to the father of John the Baptist and saying, "He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord." (Luke 1:14, 15) And listen to the Old Testament "Weeping Prophet." In one of his very depressed moments, Jeremiah lamented, "Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, 'A child is born to you -- a son!'" (Jeremiah 20:15) So, without doubt, births bring great joys. But the birth celebrated at Christmas is not a normal birth; it is a special birth, producing a special joy. In that first Christmas season, everyone who understood what was taking place was filled with joy. In our day, we join the joyful celebration. Why rejoice at Christmas time? Is it time of pure joy, or is it a time of joy mixed with sorrow? We remember that at least one Biblical person brought a touch of reality to the otherwise joyful occasion. It was the temple worker Simeon who told Mary the mother of Jesus, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed." Then he ominously added, "And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34, 35) The reason we do rejoice was given by Peter; when preaching on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:25-28), he quoted from Psalm 16:8-11: "I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." The Apostle Paul says it concisely, "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." (Romans 5:2) You see, the joy of Advent is what we can call an "inner divine blessedness." God, in the person of His Son, Jesus, has not only come to be with us, "Emmanuel," but by the presence of His Holy Spirit, He has come to be in us. (John 14:17) This Advent JOY is a deep inner contentment, an unexplainable awareness that all is well. In our study of the Book of Psalms, we paid special notice of the word "blessed" found in the very opening, introductory chapter, "Blessed is the man." The word used there is a very interesting word, it's the Hebrew word, "'ashar" which is a primitive root meaning "to be straight." So while it's use in this and other passages, the word means "pronounce happy, call blessed," it's more than a mere "happy hour" emotion. The word especially means "to be level, right, happy," and figuratively, "to go forward, be honest, proper - go straight on, advance." The word is found elsewhere such as in these verses: "Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods." (Psalm 40:4) "[Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed." (Proverbs 3:18) Speaking of the Proverbs 31 virtuous woman, it is written, "Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her." (Proverbs 31:28) One of the prophets, right after reminding the people to be faithful in bringing the tithes into the Lord's House, relates this promise, "'All the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:12) But of special interest is that one of Jacob's sons had this word "blessed" for his name. At this baby's birth, Leah, Jacob's wife exclaimed, "'How happy I am! The women will call me happy.' So she named him Asher." (Genesis 30:12, 13) Advent JOY is the blessedness of a baby being born, one who would ultimately make God's LOVE and forgiveness available to all who would believe. However, there are two more ideas associated with Advent JOY that we should look at. Once when Jesus' disciples were returning from their successful preaching tours, Jesus counseled, “In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:20) This is the joy of a different kind of birth, the new birth. Later Jesus indicated this when He said, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." (Luke 15:10) The last word concerning joy is taken from Psalm 30:1-5 "I will exalt you, O LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O LORD my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O LORD, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit. Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." Advent JOY is the joy of salvation. Once we repent, the night time of God's anger is turned into the morning of joy. The Roman jailer asked Paul and Silas the question, "What must I do to be saved?" Perhaps we would be permitted to change the question to "What must I do to have joy?" The answer would be, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." Discussion Questions Advent Produces Joy 1. What are the four key words related to Advent? 2. For most Americans, what is it that brings joy to them at Christmas time? 3. What are some of the sources of joy and happiness in our daily lives? 4. What are the illegitimate sources of joy? 5. What are some issues involved with serotonin boosting drugs? 6. What would be some distinctions between joy, happiness and pleasure? 7. If birth heads the list of experiences bringing joy, what is its opposite, and how can we minister to those who experience it? 8. Why is the birth of Jesus an occasion of joy more than any other birth? 9. What was Simeon referring to when he said to Mary, "And a sword will pierce your own soul too"? 10. How is the JOY of Advent related to the HOPE of Advent? 11. What do you think could be the relationship between the word "blessed" and other words associated with the Hebrew word "ashar": "level, right, proper - go straight on, advance"? 12. Whose son was given the name "Asher"? 13. According to Luke 15:10, who is it that rejoices when someone is "born again"? (Incorrect answer: "angels") 14. In Psalm 30 night is associated with God's anger - with what is morning associated? 15. What is the pathway to true joy?
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