The Star: A Journey of Joy

The Star: A Journey of Joy

Today is the third Sunday of Advent. If you haven’t been with us the past couple of weeks, we’ve been journeying through the Advent season, a season of preparation, expectation and a season of purposeful focus. This season was designed for us to focus on Christ’s first arrival at Christmas as well as to look forward and prepare for His second coming, the day He will return and make all things right.

So we’re using the four gifts delivered through Christ at Christmas to get us re-centered on Him, and those gifts are hope, love, joy, and peace.

Our guiding symbol through this season is the star. Over 2,000 years ago, it appeared as a symbol of hope and as a guide to the long awaited one, the newly arrived Messiah. It was a star that led people to Jesus then, and it’s a star that can still lead people to Jesus today.

If you’ve missed either of the last two weeks on hope and love, you can catch up on them at our website, yorkspringsumc.org. But as we continue to follow the star toward Christmas, it leads us today to focus on a journey of joy.

Joy can be the fuel that brightens the entire journey. And it is a fascinating concept because joy is often misunderstood. It is often confused with happiness. Happiness is a topical come and go kind of feeling. But joy is something that gets locked in our hearts and stays. And it regularly shows up in situations where it may be least expected.

Speaking of which, have you ever noticed that just about every time an angel shows up in Scripture, the first words out of the angel’s mouth are “Do not be afraid”? The phrase is so common in the Bible, you might start to think it’s the angel’s way of saying hello, or that everyone’s just scary cats. In the Christmas story, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds all heard those same words.

The shepherds give us a particularly good picture of the experience. And let me just say, they were not cowardly men. Shepherds were rugged men, used to living outdoors in wild areas, fought off predators to protect their sheep (wolves, lions, tiger and bears, oh my) and would have been prepared to ward off any bandits or thieves if necessary too. And in this story, out on a dark hillside watching their sheep, they had strength in numbers. But when that angel appeared in the night sky, they went weak at the knees with fear.

Here’s how Luke described the scene:
Luke 2:9–12
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.’

The angel had good news for these guys—news that would “cause great joy for all the people.” The angel and his group came in peace with the world’s greatest birth announcement, but first he had to help the shepherds get over their fear. And then after he told them the good news, suddenly the whole sky was filled with angels erupting with joy. Luke continues…

Luke 2:13–14
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’

This is our starting point as we follow the star today on a journey of joy. And as we do, I want us to walk through three aspects of joy: first, that joy and pain co-exist; second, that joy brings connection with others; and finally, that joy leads us to worship.

  1. Joy and Pain Co-Exist

Let me give you an example. There are so many amazing organizations around the world working diligently to bring clean water to locations across the globe. Unsafe drinking water contributes to illness and millions of deaths every year. World Vision states that more than 800 children under age 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and unsafe hygiene. Water Mission states that 1/3 of the world’s population does not have clean drinking water. For these reasons, nonprofits have been working diligently to bring clean water to everyone they can. Check out some of these pictures from Water Mission of when a village receives a working clean water source?

The huge smiles on the faces of these people say it all—pure joy! Even though many aspects of their lives don’t change, even though they still have to cope with hardships and pain, they are filled with joy because the clean water impacts to some degree every part of their lives, bringing safety, health, and opportunity.

It seems the natural reaction for most of us is to think joy could only come when pain is completely removed. But the truth is, in our fallen world, joy and pain exist side by side. In fact, there is really no way to separate them. And why is that? Because joy is Jesus and He is always with us. In fact, it is often the pain or struggle that magnifies the power of joy. And that’s why the message of the angel is for us as well: Do not be afraid!
Right now in your life, what feels like it’s spinning out of control? What circumstances in your life are causing you fear? Where is the pain of life seeming to overshadow the presence of joy? After talking with many of you this past week and the hospital visits, I know many of you have fear and pain and confusion right now.

And those places are exactly where the words of the angel can penetrate the deepest and most powerfully. Their message is for you too: Do not be afraid. You don’t have to fear. There is good news of great joy. And it is for you! Jesus is here.

In the New Testament, James takes this concept a step further when he said we are to consider the trials we face as pure joy.

James 1:2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Really, facing trials is pure joy? This sounds totally contradictory. But it isn’t a suggestion that you just fake it and slap a smile on. We acknowledge that our pain is real, but what James is saying is that even in the midst of hardship there is a longer, broader view, a perspective that shows us that our trials can lead us to grow and become mature in our faith.

And while growth isn’t easy, it can absolutely be filled with joy. As we walk in relationship with Jesus, we can grow to experience a sense of joy that comes from understanding there is always more than the pain we’re facing. There is a deeper reality at work. There is an unseen source of life flowing within us that can nourish, refresh, and renew us, much like that clean water in a place of hardship, sickness, and death.

What exactly does this joy look and feel like in our daily lives and reality? We’re getting there.

  1. Joy and Connection

In those villages where they received clean water, that’s not just for one person. It doesn’t just affect one person. The good news of clean water affects the whole village! The same is true about the good news of Christ and Christmas. The good news of great joy is for all people. Life-giving joy is meant to bubble over and touch others. It just can’t help itself. That’s what joy does. And everyone has the chance to embark on a journey of joy because Jesus came to save us all.

In fact, the coming of Jesus and the promise of His second coming are the source of joy for all creation. Jesus came to redeem the entire world from sin and death. The good news isn’t just for all shepherds or all Americans or all Christians. The good news is for the world—literally everyone. Joy is uncontained and uncontainable by borders or governments or nationalities.

The psalmist conveyed such a resonating joy in Psalm 96:
Psalm 96:11-13
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes.

Let all of us rejoice! Fear and pain isolate us, but joy brings connection. And I see it all the time. When people are down, hurt, depressed, you know what they do. They shut themselves down. They stay away from others. They don’t come to church. But this is the VERY place you need to be during those times. This is where you will find joy because connection brings joy! The joy of Jesus’ coming goes out into all the earth, connecting us to Himself and to each other, which then leads to worship.

  1. Joy and Worship

What is your response to joy? How are we living in the balance of joy and pain until Jesus comes again? How do we embrace this joy that is offered to us? Sometimes it’s easy to embrace joy. But sometimes our struggles and hurts are so overwhelming that we are trapped and bound by our fear, and joy can feel so far away, so distant, maybe even impossible.

Yet the Bible shows us that the appropriate response to joy is always worship, and joy (Jesus) is always running alongside our pain. I would suggest that worship can also jump-start joy, because when we fix our eyes on God and His greater reality rather than on our immediate problems or our fears that we are facing in the moment, our perspective changes, our thoughts and attitudes change greatly. Worship is for God, but it’s also a powerful tool for us.

In the Christmas story, the angel announced the good news of great joy, and then the entire host worshiped God. The shepherds immediately went to see the baby Jesus, worshiped Him, and then left telling everyone they met about what they saw. Matthew tells us the wise men also responded to joy with worship.

Matthew 2:10-11
When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

Think about all that for a minute. Picture it. Shepherds break into song; wise, exotically dressed advisors kneel and bow and pray aloud. As they let God’s message of joy penetrate and sweep away their fear, they were drawn toward God Himself. It drew them in and filled them with God’s joy.
We can experience the same joy this Advent season as we journey toward the birth of Christ and live in the truth that the good news of His arrival is for us too. Peter tells us how our walk of faith in Jesus brings us a sense of joy.

1 Peter 1:8-9
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Our joy comes from Jesus who brings us the salvation of our lives. You may be sitting here today thinking, “That’s all great, but I’m not experiencing any joy in my life.” That’s okay. I get it. The brokenness of our fallen world stands at odds with Christ’s joy. And this season that is all about good news and great joy that leads to connection and worship, can also be a very difficult and lonely time for many of us. So what can you do when you find yourself there? I encourage us all to step into the journey of joy in three ways.

First, take the time to connect with others. Joy can be contagious. And just like the angels were messengers who sparked joy in the shepherds, the wisemen, Mary, Joseph and so many more, a friend or loved one—or even a complete stranger—can be the spark or bringer of joy. That person’s experience and sense of joy can rub off on us. So instead of letting your own situation or fear or pain isolate you, allow yourself to step into and connect with the joy of others. This room is a great place to start if you need to find someone to listen, to pray with, and to worship with.

Second, take time to look for the blessings and positives, and make the choice to be purposefully thankful. Gratitude has a way of reminding us of joy and the reasons we have to rejoice even in the midst of pain. Isn’t that a great word: rejoice? It’s a verb, an action, and it means to practice joy and repeat.

What has God done for you in the past? What are God’s graces and good gifts to you today? Focus on the ways He has and is showing you His goodness. Make a written list if you need to. Read and re-read it. Carry it with you through the day, and so it prompts prayers and thankfulness. Then don’t be surprised at the growing sense of joy filling and shifting your heart.

Third and finally, let’s worship God for who He is. The circumstances of life can steal our joy fast, but even in the darkest times, we can worship God not just for what He does, but for who He is. His eternal love and faithfulness never change. Despite the ever-changing events of our lives, His goodness and mercy never run out.

As we continue to journey toward Christmas, I ask you to open your heart to the God of the universe who came to earth so that we could live in relationship with Him and experience the joy He brings.

Prayer: God, thank You for the good news of great joy that is for everyone—that Your Son, Jesus has come to save us. Please help us to experience joy alongside the pain, the hurt and confusion of life. And help us to respond to this joy in worship. Draw us to Yourself as we draw near to Christmas, and let us be a source of joy to others in this season and every season. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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