Unwrapping Christmas: Give Joy
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. For our Advent Message we’ve been talking about giving because God is a giver. The more we genuinely give the more we experience the love and joy that is God.
This Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Guadate Sunday (gow-day-tay). Gaudete means rejoice, Rejoice Sunday, which is a reference to Scripture where St. Paul says, “Rejoice always.”
Rejoice is one of the central themes of Advent. The reason people can rejoice is because they are people of joy and they give the gift of joy.
Let’s take a closer look at joy, and, specifically, at giving people the gift of joy this Christmas. Everyone wants to be happy, we try and hold onto it when we have it, and find ourselves disappointed or distraught when we lose it.
Pleasure and happiness are great, they can be blessings and rewards in our lives. God created pleasure and happiness and he created us to enjoy them. The problem is: pleasure is sensation, happiness is an emotion and as such, they’re temporary.
Jesus came at Christmas, and it had nothing to do with pleasure or happiness, that’s not what the angels promised. The angels promised: Good news of great joy. Beyond pleasure and happiness, God wants us to know and live in joy.
Without joy our faith becomes dry and stale. Many people have walked away from Christianity because of joyless Christians. Joyless Christians are only about obligations, legalism and laws, religious rule keeping. These very people, obsessed with observing the rules and keeping the laws (and making sure you do too), have no joy in them, so people leave the Church.
And maybe that is why you walked away. If that describes you, and now you’ve decided to give Church another try, welcome. We are glad you are here. We hope your experience is joyful. If the Christianity you learned was devoid of joy then it was a false presentation, a corrupt interpretation of Christ’s message. He came to offer you the choice of joy. There are plenty of mistakes and misconceptions when it comes to joy. Sometimes we can think that we get joy from people. And while people can certainly “bring us joy” nobody can sustain it in us because people come and go in our lives. When we count only on other people to be the source of our joy, it puts an unrealistic expectation on them that often leads to disappointment.
Sometimes we think that joy is a matter of personality. But, high energy and humor are no more proof of joy than a quiet and introverted personality is a sign of depression. Sometimes we think joy is a product, place, or circumstance. If we just get into the right neighborhood or school, or finally spring for that dream vacation and get away from it all, we’ll find our way to joy. Which we won’t because wherever you go, there you are. If you’re miserable here, you’ll be miserable there.
The prophet Isaiah tells us where we can reliably find joy. He writes, I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.
Joy isn’t a person or personality or place. It’s not an emotion or a sensation. Joy is a choice, a choice given to us by God. Joy is a habit of the heart as well as a state of mind that is the fruit of a real and living relationship with the Lord.
Isaiah finds joy in the Lord, especially in remembering what God has done for him. He says God has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.
This is an image used throughout the Scriptures about what God does for us. He covers us with his love, this robe of salvation, a robe of love. He covers us with his goodness and grace. Isaiah describes this covering in elaborate terms: He says he is like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
A diadem is a crown of jewels such as a monarch would wear, suggesting a position and place of unrivaled privilege and power. Such is Isaiah’s experience of joy in the Lord.
Yes, you can have moments of happiness apart from God, and you can have pleasure apart from God, but you can’t have true joy apart from God.
If you experience joy, that’s an experience of God whether you know it or not. Joy comes from the Lord, and it comes to us from choosing a personal relationship with him. That means moving God from a category or a class, to a Father who made us, a Son who saved us, and a Spirit who transforms us.
Joy is the celebration of the gracious provision of God. He is the source. You know, of the gifts we have talked about throughout this series, joy is unique.
You can only be one place at a time, so there is a limit to your gift of presence. You are limited in your financial resources, so there is only so much you can give away. Joy is different. There’s no limit to it. In the same way a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle, in fact, it multiplies the light, we lose nothing by sharing joy. Like the candle, sharing joy increases our joy. And, there’s more: You choose joy by sharing it. Joy is a choice and you choose it by sharing it.
Here are three ways you can choose joy this Christmas.
1) Choose joy by beginning in prayer. If it is not already your habit, make it your habit to pray, even just 5 or 6 minutes a day, each day between now and Christmas. Pray in gratitude for the gifts you have been given.
2) Choose joy by enjoying the people in your life. Focus on their good qualities and what you like and love about them. Remember the best and forget the rest. Don’t demand your way or what you want. Be adaptable.
3) Choose joy, in the hectic days ahead by not taking yourself too seriously. Determine not to be anxious or upset. Don’t rush, don’t break the speed limit, don’t run red lights. Laugh at yourself instead. Don’t dwell on disappointments. Let your heart be light.
Jesus came into the world to bring joy, and he invites his followers to do the same. Joy is crucial, not just to Christmas, but to the whole of the Christian life. If you cultivate joy in your heart, if you set your mind on it, joy can heal any hurt, overcome any obstacle, provide remedy for any pain. So. . . choose Joy.