2005-12-23 - Joy to the World
The Advent Series 2005, Part 4
Joy to the world,the Lord is come, let Earth receive her King.
What can we take from this beloved Christmas carol, which most of us sing every year?
The first word - one could preach a sermon on that alone. You may not feel joyous this season. Perhaps you are in a painful situation because of a straying family member, or maybe you are struggling with an addiction yourself. You may have just been laid off from your job, or found out you have a terminal illness. The kind of joy Jesus' birth brings won't take away that pain. It's not a magic wand that God waves over our lives, that will banish the unpleasantness away. He doesn't promise to take our pain away here on Earth (though some would tell you that is so, but it's false teaching, and God will hold them accountable).
God doesn't expect us to act like all is well when it's not. That would be dishonest. Check out the Psalms. The writers were quite frank in the expression of their anger and hurt. And God calls us (each in our own way) to assist those who are struggling spiritually, financially, emotionally or physically.
But that joy does say that in spite of what is happening in the here and now, we can have a deep-seated joy, not one that fluctuates up and down with our circumstances. Rather this is a joy that is based on knowing that we are living with our Heavenly Father forever - first here and then in Heaven. The pains we have here on this old Earth are short-lived in light of the perspective of eternity. Our Earthly lifespans are only a blip on the radar of our true lives.
And it's a joy based on the fact that we know that, a la Romans 8:28, God can bring good out of the travails we face now.
The fourth word of the carol is also poignant. The joy is not just for us, not just for our denomination or country. Rather it's for "the world." The salvation is offered to everyone. And as God's word says, it is not God's will that anyone be lost. That doesn't mean everyone will accept that. It also doesn't mean we are responsible for others' salvation. God won't send someone to Hell because you or I don't "witness" to them, though there are ministers who actually teach that. If that were true, that salvation depended on the behavior of a faulty human being, that wouldn't be just - and our God is a just God.
However, it does mean that God wants to use us to share His word. It doesn't mean everyone has to go door to door, preach to the person who is in the airplane seat beside us, or share a tract with everyone we see. In fact, those tactics often alienate people from the gospel of Christ. It could mean giving a listening and non-judgmental ear to someone struggling. It could mean mowing the yard for someone in the hospital, in the name of Christ. It could mean getting up a little earlier, to transport to church, someone who is too poor to afford an automobile. In short, it means allowing God to use the talents, personalities and resources with which He has gifted us. God doesn't need you to be Billy Graham; he just needs you to be yourself.
It means that whatever we have been focused on, whatever is worrying or hurting us - we can take our minds off those things, and instead focus on an event of 2000 years ago, when Christ put on human flesh to save us from ourselves. It means that we can focus on that one fact that will never change, no matter what happens here. Hurricanes can wash away our houses, illnesses can ravage our bodies, spouses can desert us, friends can cause us unintended pain. But one thing we can count on is the certainty of our eternal salvation, and that is indeed a matter of joy.
Comments or Questions?