Desperate for Joy
Today we are going to be reading about the shepherds and the desperation for joy that we all have. Happiness is what we usually hear people seeking, but happiness is temporary. Joy is so much deeper than happiness. Like for instance, most of you will probably be happy (even though that will only be temporary) when all your Christmas shopping is done.
In fact, most of you are probably thinking about wrapping up your Christmas shopping real soon, as you should be because you only have 12 days left. And if you are still looking for the perfect gift, you better get on it. Especially if you are planning to buy it online. A few items I ordered online on Friday, said they won’t arrive until Dec. 23rd, due to the overwhelming amount of online shopping and not enough delivery companies to keep up with it all. So you better get on it.
Even the happiness that comes with the perfect Christmas Present is temporary.
How many of us have had the experience, this year or in the past, where you wanted to buy your child the best Christmas present ever? Or they tell you they want the latest toy craze and you are so desperate to find this ‘hot off the shelf’ toy that you go to great lengths to get your hands on one.
For example, if you were a child in the ’90s, you might remember Tickle Me Elmo and rumors of parents paying thousands of dollars on the black market for a Sesame Street character whose attraction was that when you squeezed him, he vibrated, looking like he was having a seizure while giggling.
If you had a daughter in the 2000s, maybe you remember the scramble to get a Bratz doll. There was such desperation for the right character, you overlooked how a plastic doll could carry so much outright rebellion and sass, hence the name Bratz doll.
Or if you were a child of the 80’s, everyone wanted a Cabbage Patch doll. A doll who supposedly grew in the garden from cabbage of all things. You got adoptions papers for the doll who even came pre-named. And the only thing really different about this doll from all the other dolls was this doll had a signature on it’s behind.
If we go way back, we must face one of the strangest toys of any Christmas past. I know our younger members won’t believe it, but children of the ‘70s were hoping for Pet Rocks. The pet box included breathing holes all around it, and inside you would found….a rock. That’s it. I guess it became your pet. The downside was it wasn’t very fun to watch. The upside was you never had to flush it down the toilet. And all I can say, is this man, Gary Dahl, made a lot of money.
So, what will it be this year? Millions of parents are desperately hoping that this year they’ll find the right toy. A toy that will both, light up Christmas morning and not end up stuffed in the back of the closet or in the bottom of the toy box just weeks or days after Christmas. I don’t even want to think about all the gifts I’ve bought over the years that scarcely held my children’s interest for even a few days or weeks, much less for months or years to come. But we keep buying and keep hoping this time it will be different.
The Reason for Hope, The Foundation for Joy
Now the very first Christmas present ever, was significantly different than anything we could ever find in the store or online. Luke tells us what that very first Christmas present was.
“There were shepherds living out in their fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”
Then the armies of heaven joined in singing, and when the angels returned to heaven, Luke continues with the shepherds in verses 16-18:
“They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”
The first Christmas present was so different.
The problem with toys and things is that the hope and joy we look for in them just doesn’t last. With both toys and things, we find that the more we go back to that thing or think on that thing, the less joy it brings.
Even if you had an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can only hold onto it for so long. Let’s say you jumped out of a plane, and it was the most exhilarating thing in your life. For the next few days, just thinking about the jump brings a level of adrenaline and delight. But soon the memory doesn’t hold the same power. What’s more, the next jump doesn’t quite do what the first jump did. After a while, you find jumping out of an airplane just doesn’t do much of anything at all for you! In all seriousness, in the same way, if you were given an amazing gift, it only brings happiness for so long. Eventually, it just becomes part of the mass of stuff that you have.
But the first Christmas gift is a different sort of gift altogether. The shepherds show us that encountering Jesus is a different sort of experience altogether. It had such an impact on the shepherds that they had to spread the word after they had seen Him. This was a lasting hope and joy that they could not contain. After telling everyone they could that night…
“The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.”
That your joy may be complete
Three decades after that encounter, Jesus gave us insight on this sort of hope and joy for our lives. He basically tells us how He loves us just as the Father loves Him and says: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11
How many of us would say our joy is complete? There are about 250 passages in the NIV translation of the Bible that deal with joy. If you read them, you’ll find the Bible doesn’t just encourage joy, it actually commands us to have joy. In fact, the Bible commands us to rejoice twice as many times as it commands us to repent. We aren’t just given permission to laugh or to have some fun times; God wants your life to be constantly overflowing and filled with joy. Is that how you would describe your life?
The shepherds’ joy was a result of what God had done. Watching sheep at night I’m sure had its merits. But the hope that the angels were right, and the wonder all the way to the stable, and the life-changing joy for them began when they first heard of Jesus, and then grew even more, more than words can describe, as they met Jesus.
Joy begins for us in the same way it began for the shepherds. It begins with us hearing about Jesus and then meeting Him. Without that foundation and faith, how can we hope to have lasting joy? Very few things last forever. An encounter with Jesus, however, remains and grows through all eternity. Meeting Jesus never stops impacting and shaping our lives! It never stops giving us hope and opportunities for joy.
A few basic themes about joy in the Bible
So with that in mind, and since the bible talks about joy over 250 times – meaning we should pay attention to it – let’s zero in on a few basic themes about joy in the bible. And let me say first, this joy the bible is talking about is more than a result or a feeling. In fact, it’s an undeniable theme all throughout the bible that hope and joy are more of a mind-set, an attitude for living that comes from what Jesus did for us at Christmas and also on the cross.
I. Embracing the Hope and Joy That Have Been Given
The apostle Paul clearly demonstrates this truth in Philippians 4:4–5: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
One important part of walking in hope and joy is simply to choose to rejoice in everything! Much of the hope, joy, and rejoicing in the Bible isn’t really connected with circumstances. It’s connected with a decision. In fact, one of the keys to a life of joy is to rejoice even when the circumstances are disappointing or even painful.
Take, for example, the amazing prayer of the prophet Habak-kuk. The prophet prays to God when Israel is in a state of terrible disarray. Wickedness and idolatry ruled the land, and the Assyrians were threatening to overwhelm Israel. As I read his prayer, pay attention to both the circumstances the prophet is facing as well as his response:
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
There’s not much more that could be going wrong in Israel. Yet Habakkuk’s response is to rejoice. Not just to rejoice, but to be joyful. That’s amazing! Normally, good things happen, and then we feel happy. We feel joy, and then we rejoice. Our prospects look good, and hope fills our hearts. The Bible says, “That’s fine, but actually it works the other way around. You start with rejoicing, and then you feel joy.” Joy flows out of rejoicing every bit as much as rejoicing should flow out of joy.
Here’s a practical example.
I don’t think anyone likes feeling embarrassment. We all hate making a mistake or doing something foolish that make us feel like an idiot. When that feeling comes, the first thing we want to do is push it away as fast as we can. We run from it; we try to forget it. We try to replace it or defend against it. In fact, most of us will do whatever it takes to just not feel it.
But the next time you feel embarrassed, try this. Don’t expect to enjoy it, but try to rejoice in it. We can actually thank God when we feel foolish because it’s a chance for our ego to be contained, challenged, or even broken. Isn’t that why we feel embarrassed in the first place? Because our ego has been challenged.
So instead of running away from it or pushing it down, try giving praise and thanks to God. “Lord, thank You for this chance to be humbled. Thank You that my ego and my pride are being challenged. I rejoice in You that I’m being made new in this horrible feeling I have right now.” That approach can change the way we go through all sorts of failures. We probably won’t ever desire them, but maybe for the first time we can have joy in the midst of them.
II. Hope and Joy That Can’t Be Taken Away
Do you remember this famous passage from Romans 8:28? “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” “All things” is not some things. “All things” is not most things. “All things” is all things.
So, no matter what you go through, you can be absolutely certain that one of two things is happening. Either God sent it or God is going to use it. I really don’t think God causes the bad things, but I think God sends things that aren’t quite what we ask for. But if you love Him, you can be sure that He is using it somehow and someway for your good because He is mindful of you and always watching over you. In that, we can always have hope. In fact, we can always rejoice in that. And one of the eventual outflows of rejoicing is….joy.
Do you remember what the big sin was that the Israelites fell into when they were wandering in the desert after they escaped Egypt? There were actually at least two. One was idolatry. But the more common one was complaining. Their complaining made God angry. Some of us need to be reminded that complaining and grumbling are actually sins.
Now we are called to share our burdens. So please, let’s be honest with one another in our pain. I hope you have a godly friend that can lift you up when you share your struggles. However, moaning and complaining about your boss, about your kids’ teachers, about your relatives, about the president, about your pastor, about your friends is a sin. It’s incredibly dishonoring and divisive. Just as rejoicing restores your joy, complaining steals it.
How many of you know people who complain a lot? How many of those people would you describe as hopeful, happy, joyful people whom you love being around? It doesn’t help. It hurts. If you complain a lot, stop it. Complaining is actually draining, and it’s a declaration of war against our own joy.
III. Don’t Settle for Anything Less
This is another undeniable theme connected to our continued hope and growing joy that’s found throughout the Bible. It’s very clearly seen in Psalm 51. This beautiful and powerful passage was written by David after he had had an affair with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be killed. In verses 3 and 4, David says,
Psalm 51:3-4, 12
“My sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
I think the high point of this psalm is verse 12 where David prays, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”
The first thing to notice is that David brings his life back into alignment with God’s truth and God’s Word. Our sin may certainly will bring temporary pleasure, momentary relief, maybe even a little happiness. But we all know that in the end, it will steal your hope and crush your joy. David also wrote these words in Psalm 19.
“The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”
Do you want your eyes to light up? Do you want to come alive? Do you want to have an unshakable hope and joy? Then do things God’s way.
In the book, “The Weight of Glory,” written by C. S. Lewis, he says: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Lewis makes a powerful connection with David’s words in Psalm 51:12—“Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” I think we too easily forget what it is the angel was announcing to the shepherds. I think we too easily forget what it means that the Savior had been born to you. The truth of eternal life alone—if we really understand what it means for us—is more than enough to give us purpose to rejoice in every single situation.
No matter what we go through, we can accurately declare, “Yes, but one day I will be in heaven with Jesus.” It may sound a little naive or even unrealistically optimistic, but the full truth is heaven is our real hope and a source of real joy.
And salvation includes heaven, but salvation is more than heaven. Salvation means we are God’s child. Salvation means we are part of God’s family. And to be God’s child is to be always on God’s mind, having God involved and working in everything.
To believe in Jesus is to always have His Spirit, His insight, His help, His comfort, and His strength in every circumstance. “Lord, restore to us the joy of Your salvation.”
Joy is stolen when we forget what Jesus’ arrival to earth means to our lives. So, we search for it by making mud pies in the slum of what this world offers instead of seeking the refreshment of a holiday at sea…which comes with meeting and loving Jesus.
When you think of Christians, do you see images of people who are full of hope and joy? People who are making the most out of every moment? When I say “followers of Jesus,” do you think of people who are full of hope and marked by rejoicing? I hope so.
Life can be hard, but we know the truth the shepherds held. The Savoir has come! In Him, we are saved. In Him, we win. The amazing thing is, no matter what happens, that can never be taken away from us. So don’t settle for anything less.
Jesus tells us, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). So, let’s live like we’re saved. Let’s live like we’re loved. Let’s live like we’re free. Every moment is a chance to sing and live our praises to our amazing King. Every moment is a chance to rejoice. Every moment is an opportunity to be filled with and to overflow with joy.
Let your strength arise. Let your hope arise. And rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Father, thank You for this gift that is unlike any other gift that has ever been given. Thank You for sending Your Son to save us from our sins. We forget what a wonderful and amazing gift our salvation really is. So Lord, restore to us the joy of Your salvation. Help us to see the great joy that the shepherds witnessed that night. Fill us with your hope and joy—a joy so complete and so overwhelming that we, like the shepherds, are compelled to share it with others. We are thankful for the certainty of heaven in Jesus, but until that day, like the shepherds, we will choose to glorify and praise You. We will continue to rejoice in who You are and all that You’ve done. We thank You and praise You in Jesus’s name, amen.