Rediscover Christmas – Finding Joy in our Discouragements – Sermon

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Songs

Call to Worship

Throughout all human history, the Joy of God’s promise has stayed the same:

“I will be your God, and you will be my people.”

This day we worship our God, whose name “Emmanuel” reminds us of the promise: God-with-us.
On this third, Joy-filled, Sunday of Advent, we give thanks for God’s abiding presence among us.
Come and sing with us – so everyone can hear the Joy we have – Welcome to Worship.

Songs

Prayer

Prayer of Confession & Assurance

It is getting more and more difficult, Lord, for us to keep our attention on the holy things. On the things of that first noel….
Our lives are caught up in the planning, parties, gifts, food …
We get side-tracked too easily and end up exhausted.
The cries of those in need abound and we are overwhelmed by the immensity of that need…
and sometimes we feel we just can’t meet all the needs that are presented to us.
Heal our hearts and spirits, Lord.
Help us understand that you do not ask us to heal or do everything but rather to find a simple way in which we might lighten someone else’s burden, as you have lightened our lives.
You have brought hope and peace and joy to us.
Now help us to do the same and rejoice in the wondrous things that you have done.
Teach us to use our gifts and that in helping, we find great and abundant joy to share with others.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. AMEN.

Assurance of Pardon:

The messenger has been sent to us, proclaiming that there is One who is Coming who will heal and restore your joy.

Know that this is a great gift from God, who has always and will always love you.

Rediscover Christmas Sermon Title

Today's Message: Pastor Marlee Page

How many of you are nature people?? Do you like spending time out in God’s creation – does it renew you and strengthen you. Does spending time in the outdoors bring you Joy??

It absolutely is that way for me!  When we used to farm our land- my favourite thing was planting because it was spring, it was so great to be outside in the sun and it requires a slow pace to do it properly- as I went back and forth it gave me time to see- see the new growth in the fencerows, see the ducks and muskrats doing their thing in the ditches, feel the breeze in my hair and the sun on my skin!!

Joy is different for everyone…. For some Joy is bubbling and bursting… for others its gentler, calmer…. But for all Joy comes from deep within…

Definition of joy

  1. a feeling of extreme gladness, delight, or exultation of the spirit arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction.

Joy is the trait we’re exploring today on this third Sunday of Advent. If you’ve been journeying with us the past few weeks toward Christmas, you know that we have been celebrating Advent.

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” – Advent offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, to celebrate His birth, and to be alert for His second coming.

Advent looks back in celebration at the hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s coming, while at the same time looking forward in hopeful and eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when He returns for His people. Because Christ has come to be God with Us, we can experience joy no matter what discouragement we may be going through.

Elizabeth and Mary: Mothers’ Joy

There’s a lot of joy throughout the biblical Christmas story, especially early in the story. But it’s important to note that this joy isn’t separate from pain and disappointment. In fact, much of this joy is born out of long disappointment and grief. We’re going to look more closely at this as we explore the stories and experiences of Elizabeth and Mary.

Luke’s Christmas story begins a little earlier than Mary and Joseph and Jesus, with a prophet named Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth.

Let’s listen to what Luke says:

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-7

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

This short paragraph would have spoken volumes of information to Luke’s original audience.

We’ve got Herod, the Roman sponsored king keeping the Jews under harsh Roman control.

These are difficult times. And here we meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, both of priestly lineage. And in a day with a lot of religious corruption and power plays by the Pharisees and Sadducees, Zechariah and Elizabeth are a stark contrast. They are described as righteous, blameless, faithful. This is especially important in light of what Luke tells us next. Zechariah and Elizabeth are old but have never been able to have children.

That changes suddenly and miraculously when the archangel Gabriel shows up and tells Zechariah that his wife is going to have a son, a powerful prophetic son who will prepare the way for the coming Messiah. As you know, Zechariah is so overwhelmed he can hardly believe this news and when he questions the news, the angel says, “OK, here’s your sign. You won’t be able to speak until the child is born.” And the prophet is left writing and signing to everyone to

explain what’s happened.

It seems Elizabeth is quicker to believe the news, and when she becomes pregnant, she says,

“The Lord has done this for me…. In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people”

— Luke 1:25, NIV

And there’s an odd note in the previous verse that tells us that Elizabeth went into seclusion for the first five months of her pregnancy. Maybe this has something to do with Elizabeth’s disgrace that she mentioned.

For her, the inability to have children would have been a lifelong source of pain and sorrow and shame. It was a big deal in that culture.

The great hopes of the young couple Elizabeth and Zechariah would have eventually faded through the years as they tried repeatedly to have a child.

The young Jewish woman would have questioned herself and probably asked questions of the other women. And they probably would have questioned her—unfairly—casting suspicion or unfounded blame on her. Perhaps there were pregnancies to spark new hope and miscarriages to dash those hopes with grief and loss. Elizabeth’s self-worth probably sunk as the years passed and hope dimmed. At some point, she, and everyone around her would have declared Elizabeth barren and branded her with this lifelong stigma.

Maybe that’s why she stayed in seclusion for five months, keeping to herself to let her hope blossom into joy personally. Or to ensure that this pregnancy was indeed going to last. Maybe she was simply savouring these special days on her own terms.

If we were watching the movie, this is where we’d get some kind of subtitle message like – Somewhere in Galilee… When Elizabeth is six months pregnant, Gabriel makes another earthly appearance, this time to Mary. And he’s delivering the most miraculous pregnancy announcement of all.

Mary received the news gracefully and willingly, but at some point, early on, Mary must have known that her challenges and disgrace were just about to begin.

The scorn and shame she would face—and her family and her fiancé as well—would be tremendous when it became obvious, she was pregnant and unmarried.

How do you make people believe the baby in your womb is God’s Son?

As he lay awake considering this, he fell into a dream, and saw an angel standing beside him. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “don’t hesitate to take Mary as your wife! For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.

— Matthew 1:20 NIV

Even Joseph couldn’t believe this news at first, and it took another visit from an Angel to sort out his disbelief. Mary’s journey would not be an easy one.

Maybe that’s why, as Luke tells us, Mary

“hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea”

Luke 1:39, NIV

Mary must have heard about her relative Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy.

“If anyone will understand, it has to be Elizabeth,” she might have thought.

If so, she was right.

This is where the joy erupts. Against the past backdrop of discouragement, disgrace, grief, and shame, the joy comes bursting through for these two mothers-to-be as they are able to share together!

Luke tells us,

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’”

— Luke 1:41-45, NIV

What a relief this must have been to Mary. She didn’t have to explain herself. She didn’t have to worry anymore about being understood. All she had to do was say hello, and Elizabeth knew. Even her developing baby knew and leaped within her. This was just the affirmation and encouragement Mary needed.

Like all of us, Mary just wanted to be seen & understood— and loved!

This might even have been the first time though all of this that she could be even a little bit excited!!

Her joy came bursting through, and she sang and praised and thanked God:

Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s Song
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

This is one of my favourite passages of Scripture….

The Magnificat, The Canticle of Mary, The Song of Mary – many faith traditions have their own name for this passage…. mine is much simpler – I call this The Joy of Mothers!

On one level it’s a celebration and connection in the midst of miraculous events.

But on another level, it’s two expectant mothers sharing a deep understanding and affirmation that foster the flow of joy no matter what has happened before and what is going to come in the days ahead.

There is much we can take away from this story, but I want to point out 2 things to you, that we might apply to our own experience with joy.

1. It’s OK to be joyful—and happy.

For some of you, this is a no-brainer, no-duh kind of statement.

For others of you, this is a subversive kind of statement that might make you a little uncomfortable if you really think about it.

A lot of where you fall on that spectrum probably depends on your personal past and possibly your spiritual history.

We’ve probably all heard joy described in contrast to happiness.

I’ve probably even described the emotions in a way that divides the two basically along these lines:

  • Happiness is fleeting and temporary.
  • Joy is deeper and more fulfilling.

Often in our Christian culture, the two get split into happiness as secular and less valuable or fulfilling, and joy as spiritual and more important or fulfilling. Is this ringing a bell?

In actuality, the Bible doesn’t make any real distinction between joy and happiness. They are essentially different words for the same thing.

They may have slightly different nuances like many synonyms do, but those are often cultural and shifting.

They’ve been translated somewhat differently in our different English translations of the Bible, but the original Hebrew and Greek terms used in the Bible to describe joy and happiness are essentially interchangeable.

This is one of the premises of a book called Happiness by theologian Randy Alcorn. I’m simplifying because he wrote an entire book about the subject.

But I raise this point because it’s something some of us need to hear and be reminded of.

It’s OK to want to be happy and joyful, and it’s OK to enjoy those emotions.

There is great joy in the Christmas season, and it’s good to embrace and celebrate that joy. It is certainly hard to find the right balance in our lives to savior and experience that joy. But to those of you who find yourselves driven by obligation and busyness and guilt in this season, it’s OK to stop, and say no, and pause and embrace a part of the season that brings you personal happiness.

And to those of you who find Christmas to be a painful, difficult season; to those of you who are hurting or grieving personally or feeling discouraged by this tumultuous last couple of years we’ve been going through; and to those of you who are happy to revel in this season—it’s OK to feel and to embrace joy.

God sees you no matter where you are on the emotional spectrum of happiness.

That’s the first thing I want you to take away – It’s OK to be happy.

Our longing for happiness and joy is a natural desire that God has placed within us as a reflection of His own joyful nature.

Whatever term we want to call it, the most important part is our source of joy and happiness.

And here’s the second thing I want you to take away this morning –

2.  We can choose joy.

I know this phrase can get overused these days… but it is true!!

Think of it this way…. There are a lot of uses of the word ‘rejoice’ in the Bible. It’s not a word that we use very often in our culture, but maybe we should.

Rejoice is the verb form of joy. It’s the action of feeling or expressing joy and delight. Delight is another word we don’t use very often today.

And if you look a little more closely at the word, you’ll notice that it begins with the prefix ‘re- ‘. Think back to grammar class or just think of other English words that start with re-, and you’ll re-member that this prefix means once more, or again, or a return to.

So to rejoice is to return to joy.

It’s a choice and an action we can take to return to joy.

I’d like to add that for us, it is a return to our source of joy; it’s a return to Jesus.

Friends, I believe this is the only way we can find true delight and satisfaction. And I believe the process is the same for all of us, whether we are feeling the happiness and joy of this season or not. Whether we are buried in discouragement or everything is going our way, none of us can conjure an unending supply of feel-good happiness all the time, no matter how optimistic or positive our natural disposition is. Sooner or later, we all have one of those days, or weeks, or years. And in reality, we all have them way more often than we’d like.

That’s where the re- comes in.

That’s where we must return regularly, daily, constantly to Jesus, our source of joy. It’s why rejoicing is our process of refueling our tank, restoring our strength, and renewing our spirits.

It’s reconnecting with our Savior. And it’s in this process that the apostle James’s words make sense when he encourages us:

“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” 

— James 1:2-4, NIV

I’ve got to admit, sometimes that’s the last thing we want to hear when we’re hurting. Joy can feel so far away when we’re grieving or depressed or afraid, as our pain and problems loom. But let me encourage you that James isn’t necessarily saying be happy about our trials and problems. He’s saying we can find joy in them when we see the bigger picture beyond them. The bigger picture that God is working for our good in every situation.

And that bigger picture starts at our source in Jesus.

In the difficult times, there’s much encouragement to be found in the “rejoices” of the Psalms. Psalms 13 is a great example. It begins with the painful cry,

“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1, NIV).

Remember how we’ve talked about this cry of Israel, waiting for so long for the messiah to come….

-but Look how it ends with the reminder and declaration,

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Psalm 13:5, NIV).

It’s just one of many similar examples. The Psalms are honest and raw as the writers pour out their feelings in these prayer-like poems and songs. Then we see them transition through the process of remembering and stirring themselves to rejoice and find strength in and from God.

This is where and how we find authentic joy.

This is how we can celebrate in this season as we remember and turn to Jesus, who is come to be with us and to give us joy.

Friends, let’s rediscover Christmas this year by embracing joy, no matter what we’re going through.

Let’s remember each day the source of our joy.

Let’s seek our happiness, not in the seasonal trappings and traditions around us, but in returning constantly to our source of joy.

Let’s choose to Spend some time in the good news of the angels that will bring great joy to all of us.

A Savior has been born, our Messiah, the Lord, and He will carry us through and complete His work in us no matter what.

Prayer

Living God,
We thank you for calling Mary and Elizabeth… cousins by birth but sisters in their Joy.
In a world where men were in control, you chose a young girl and an old woman to do something extra special for you.  To be the mothers to 2 very special men.
In a work where power is sought and yearned for, you turned the values of the time upside down by inviting them to share in your great work of redemption.
We thank you that you still call men & women to share in your saving actions.
You call us to live and serve in the way of Christ, uncertain of the future but trusting in your faithfulness just the same.
Sometimes your choices surprise us and the way you choose seems daunting… but like Mary, we are your Humble servants- you know best, and your faith is our possibilities awes us!!
Lord,  prepare us for all that you might ask of us.
Prepare us to show the HOPE, Peace & Joy we have found in you everyday but especially in this Advent season.
Father, help us to see where there is a need that only we can fulfill, where there are people that need the love and support only we are able to give, where there are words that need to be spoken that can only come from us.
Touch our hearts and spirits, so that your joy may spring from our lips and our lives this season.
For we ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN.

Song

Benediction

So Go and Be people of joy.
Let others see joy alive in your heart.
And then Share that joy by seeing the good in them…
In this Advent season, we need to see, feel, and share joy.
As you go out into the World,
share joy, peace, and hope with ALL those you meet.

HAVE A GREAT WEEK…. BLESSINGS!