This last Sunday, I didn't feel like preaching. The theme was "joy," and I didn't feel joyful. It’s really hard for me to be fake. I’m a bad liar. I’ll always tell you the truth, and the truth is that joy cannot be forced.
You can try to create a little Christmas joy: Put up lights. Buy presents. Have a drink. Those things may bring happiness for a moment, but not genuine joy. You can’t make yourself be joyful.
As I was preparing to preach on joy I was talking with someone in an absolute miserable situation. And I thought, “It is inappropriate for me to talk about joy right now. Hope, faith, love – yes. But joy would come across as insensitive." I’m not sure if this is the time for joy. Should we just skip the joy candle in 2020?
Here's what flipped my perspective on joy. Maybe it will bring you some joy in a season of darkness.
When the Bible talks about joy, it most often uses the word “for” or “therefore.” Like Isaiah, chapter 12, verses 5-6:
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
The prophet Isaiah spoke to a weary people in a miserable place. Israel was decimated by Assyria. Judah was on the verge of disaster. And yet he said, “Shout aloud and sing for joy!”
How can you say “Joy” at a funeral? How can you sing in a war? “For” is like saying “because.” It’s the basis and the reason for something. And the reason follows the word "for": “For God has done something glorious.”
It's like the angel that went out to the countryside to sheep farmers at night. “I bring you good news of great joy!” Why? In the middle of the night? While working the third shift? "For unto you is born a Savior.” Just as there is no electricity without a power plant, there is no joy without a source. The source of true joy is the mighty work of God.
Last winter, just before quarantine, a friend of mine was dying. Ed was in his final hours when I went to his room at the nursing home. I sat by his bedside with his children and grandchildren. It was miserable. I wanted to hear my friend’s voice, but he was unresponsive. I wanted to see him smile, but he just laid there.
Ed’s wife Joan was on the other side of the room in her bed. It was evening and she was tucked in for the night. Joan had dementia so we thought she was unaware of what was going on, or sleeping. Such a great couple and now they seemed to be gone. We sat around Ed in silence. Then we heard something. “Rejoice!” someone said. “Rejoice! I say it again, rejoice. Praise the Lord!”
Joan was shouting and singing from her bed. Over and over again she said, “Rejoice!” It was like she could see something we couldn’t. Jesus holding on to Ed, calling him to his side. She was singing him home. In misery, she said “Joy.” In the face of death, “Rejoice!”
Joy is not based on feelings or circumstances. The source of joy is the mighty work of God. And God does mighty work in miserable circumstances. That’s why it’s possible to have joy in misery. In fact, the more misery the more joy. The worse the situation, the greater the shout when God does his work. The more depressing the place, the louder the singing when God saves.
When the roaring lion snuggles up to the lamb.
When it gets darker and darker and darker, the world getting more cruel . . . and then Jesus is born.
When Joseph cut the umbilical cord and looked into the eyes of a helpless infant . . . and saw the face of God.
When there was a dirty animal feed box that belongs in a barn. And that’s what God chose for a crib!
When there was a hill of skulls. A cross with blood on it . . . and God flipped it for his greatest miracle!
At the darkest time of year, when the sun sets at 4:39PM, and we light candles in joy, as a protest to the darkness.
Joy in misery, FOR God has done mighty things for us!
OK. Now I can talk about joy.