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Dec 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Joy – Advent 2023



Welcome and Prayer: Christine

  1. The angels said to the shepherds,
    “I bring you good news that will cause GREAT JOY for ALL people.” (Luke 2:10-11)

(Hence: the Advent candle for JOY is called the Shepherd’s candle.)

When we look back over time, at the sacred, historic event of the first Christmas, the coming of Jesus Christ to live on this planet with us and showing His great love for us, we can’t help but to REJOICE.

  • In the now, sometimes it is difficult to rejoice.

The Bible says, “REJOICE in the Lord ALWAYS!” (Phil. 4:4)

  • Experiencing conflicting emotions, that seem to be diametrically opposed to JOY can make it difficult to rejoice.
    It’s normal to feel conflicting emotions like depression, grief, sadness, etc.
    Perhaps you feel far removed from JOY right now.
  • What does being JOYFUL look like to you?

To me, in the past, I had a one-dimensional perception of JOY.
It looked like exuberance, all smiles, laughing, positive in all circumstances, etc.

  • In fact, I definitely felt like being joyful was a Christian obligation.

I was told in the past to be sure not to be caught frowning on stage (while in choir) because what if the camera focused in on my frown, then perhaps people would not want to become Christians. No pressure.

  • As I matured, I realized that I have an array of emotions that God is well aware of and His love for me is not affected by my “negative” emotions.
  • Even in the Bible, conflicting emotions are recorded. For example, the Bible records that the women felt fear and JOY simultaneously after seeing Jesus appear at the tomb.
    “The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great JOY…” (Matthew 28:8)
  • Fearful AND filled with great joy.
    It’s very normal to feel different emotions this time of year.
  • Recently, thinking deeply on JOY, the first few words of a Christmas carol (written in 1719 and based on Psalm 98) really penetrated my heart and challenged me.
  • “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

I suddenly realized that JOY came to the earth. Jesus is JOY. He lives in us. Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20). So, JOY is inside of us. Joy lives right in our hearts. He’s not far away. Joy is not far away. Whether we feel it or not. We don’t have to manufacture it. We may not be tapping into it, but we can…

  • How might someone who is really down and depressed express their joy?

I picture a woman who feels desperate and utterly hopeless. She is crawling on the ground and using all her strength to crawl over to a pink stone. This pink stone symbolizes joy. (And I found out later that pink is the liturgical color for joy.) She is embracing joy. She is moving toward joy, despite her circumstances.
We need to embrace a broader definition of JOY.

It’s not as much about the outward expression of joy, as the inward embracing of joy.

Jesus lives right here in our heart, and we can embrace Him. We can embrace JOY.

  • Simple gesture: I put my hands on my heart. It’s grounding. It helps me remember that He actually does live in me. JOY lives in me.
  • Let us pray:

Dear Lord,
Just like it says further on in that same Christmas carol,
“Let earth receive her King.”
“Let every heart, prepare Him room.”

Lord, we want to receive you as King into our hearts.
Maybe some of us have never invited you into our hearts. Maybe we have never welcomed you into our hearts. And we do invite you.
And those who have had you in our hearts for many years, we want to welcome you more. We want to make our heart more welcoming for you.
Lord, we welcome you and we thank you that you live in us and your joy lives in us.
In Jesus’ name,

Morning Talk: Jim Calhoun

Luke 2:8-19, King James Version

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

This is how I first heard the Christmas story.
King James original from Linus van Pelt (from the Peanuts comic strip).
I can’t say it makes me sad.
It was a fine way to be introduced to Christmas.

Later, when I was 11 or 12, I found our family Bible, my grandmother’s Bible and read it for myself. King James again. I loved this story but I didn’t much understand it yet. That was still a few years away. Then I found myself, my life in this story.

I want to go through it today and point to some of the parts that still hold my attention, my affection. Things that continue to make this story so compelling to me.

Shepherds abiding in the field

  • The idea that shepherds were shiftless bottom of society seems to come to us from Aristotle.
  • He thought that shepherds had it too easy
  • “the laziest are shepherds, who lead an idle life, and get their subsistence without trouble from tame animals; their flocks wandering from place to place in search of pasture, they are compelled to follow them, cultivating a sort of living farm.”
  • But Abraham, Moses and David had all been shepherds
  • The basic expression of human vulnerability
  • Often living exposed to the elements
  • Often the youngest boy of the family
  • Protecting their sheep from lions, bears, cheetah, leopard, wolves
  • Ensuring they have sufficient food and water
  • Enormous responsibility, few resources a matter of life and death.
  • This is the human condition writ large
  • Fragile, finite, flawed
  • It is in this context of being human that our deepest longings are born
  • The deep desires that drive our lives. Of love, of connection, of meaning, of significance , of safety, of peace
  • A couple of weeks ago Chuck and I spoke on hope
  • I talked about bringing an optimist but not holding that as a virtue
  • Chuck talked about how depression dampens his intuitive hopes
  • He also said, and I think he was right, that because hope is difficult for him, then he may be best suited to talk about holding hope.
  • Afterwards we talked and I lamented that we didn’t have a bit of a public discussion of our differences and our similarities with hope.
  • Had we chatted in that setting I would have wanted to point to our shared longing in our hearts and how those deep longings are our hopes.
  • One day, in some way, we do not currently understand, or deepest longings will be fulfilled.
  • Our faith shared, and worked out individually according to our own capacity and needs, is that Jesus will satisfy our hopes, our deepest longings.

And they were sore afraid

  • And into this community of men and boys, as unlikely as it seems, an angel appears
  • The glory of the Lord surrounded them.
  • I can guess what that was like, but I don’t know.
  • It seems that one of the layers was pulled back for a moment
  • A part of the mystery was revealed, made plain
  • And they were sore afraid.
  • Of course they were
  • They had seen nothing like it before and we have seen nothing like it since.
  • Wonderful, awesome, disorienting, shocking, scary. So very scary. Good tidings of great joy
  • Immediately the angel addressed the shepherd’s fear and reassured them.
  • Calming them, soothing them with a convincing, compelling “fear not.”
  • When My daughter was little, and sometimes even today I offer her my own fear not in many forms. It isn’t surprising we need this since like the shepherds we are also fragile, finite and flawed. Exposed and vulnerable. All of us.
  • The angel hasn’t come with a terrible swift sword of judgment and destruction
  • But instead with good tidings of great joy.
  • Great joy is quite the promise
  • Joy usually defined makes us think of happiness and pleasure
  • In this case though I think it means something more.
  • In this case I see joy being the fulfilling of our hopes, our deepest longings.
  • Even when it is just a glimmer. Even when it is just the tiniest taste.
  • Then Joy wells up in us. Swells. Nourishes our hope that it wasn’t wasted. Deepens our lives immeasurably.

For all people

  • And this joy is for all people.
  • These good tidings of great joy are for all people. Today. All people. Today. Really.
  • The temptation in this era of polarity, conflict, and division is to withhold this great joy from one of our neighbors instead of living it our freely just as we have received it.
  • Can we bring good tidings for all of our neighbors , our transgender neighbor, our Spanish speaking neighbor (or Arabic or mandarin), or our Muslim neighbor, or cranky old man neighbor, or black neighbor, or Sheik neighbor, or neighbor who monitors and judges our every move, our neighbor without a home, our indigenous neighbor, our neighbor who fell off the wagon again, our super rich neighbor, or anxious neighbor, our neighbor who left their manners at home when they got behind the wheel. All of them and all the rest.
  • All of them. Good tidings of great joy for all of our neighbors. Everyone.
  • But we can afford to freely give truly good tidings. Far more important than a “Merry Christmas” will be our smile, patience, gentle look, our kindness. Our little contribution to offering to them that their deepest longings will one day be satisfied.

This shall be a sign to you

  • So the angel tell the shepherds that there is cause for great joy for all peoples.
  • But it isn’t left there. The Angel gives them a sign. A baby in a manger. If they see this sign then they will know, deep down, that the angel is telling the truth.
  • That their peace on earth is here
  • That goodwill to human kind is present
  • That their deepest longing will be fulfilled and their hearts filled with joy.
  • And then there were more angels. And the skies were filled with phrases to God for all of this.
  • And then it was over. The angels went away. All at once or one by one, it doesn’t say.
  • And the veil was returned to and the window into another realm was closed.
  • And it was over. Let us now go
  • The boys, being boys seemed to come to their senses, gathered themself up, and then, as boys will do, decided to see for themselves.
  • And they saw the baby in the manger.
  • Then the boys, as boys will do, proceeded to tell anyone who would listen. Probably for the rest of their lives.
  • “I was in the fields with the sheep. This angel came in the sky. The whole place was glowing. Jacob was there ask him. And the angel told us about a baby in a manger not far away. And there were more angels. Like you can’t imagine. So many. And they were singing to Gods glory. And we went. Not far. And there was a baby in the manger just as the angel said. It must of been from God.”

All they that heard it wondered

  • Not wondered like are there guys for real?
  • But full of amazement hoping their deepest longings might be fulfilled.
  • Maybe already swelling with Joy that just the thought of such an event was proof that their hopes would be satisfied.
  • Maybe placing a rudimentary faith in the baby they say or the baby their heard about hoping their deepest longing would be satisfied.

Mary kept all these things

  • The section finishes with Mary holding all these things in her heart.
  • To remember and rehearse them.
  • To recall her own joy and the answers to her own deepest longings.
  • We find her doing this in other places in Luke and I am charmed by it. I can see it and feel it.
  • It is unlikely that the heavens will open up for any of us today.
  • It is unlikely that an angel will speak to us or that we will be surrounded by a glorious glow.
  • I never expect you to be caught up into something so big.
  • That suits me just fine.
  • But remember, the shepherds weren’t at a prayer meeting asking for that.
  • They were going about their life, fulfilling their responsibilities like any other day.
  • The same for Mary. It came how and when God brought it.
  • And they were receptive.
  • I want to be like that.
  • There may well be a time in the next few days that a tiny corner of the veil between heaven and earth is pulled back. The littlest tiniest bit.
  • There will be signs for me as well if I am listening, open.
  • These signs can take many shapes. Beauty in a sunrise or a song. A moment of connecting with a mate or a child or a friend. A deep and welcomed laugh. Maybe even a good cry. There are so many things that will point us to the truth of the universe: that God really does love us and is making us whole.

Last week, while Chuck was talking, I heard a low hum quietly vibrating. I rather enjoyed the droning sound of it, but was curious whether it was intentional, someone’s cell phone, or something else. It turned out that the hum was coming from Grendal’s amplifier, and it continued as he was trying to figure out what was causing it.

Songs of liquid days: changing opinion
We became aware
Of a hum in the room
An electrical hum in the room
It went mmmmmm
We followed it from
Corner to corner
We pressed out ears
Against the walls
We crossed diagonals
And put our hands on the floor
It went mmmmmm
Sometimes it was
A murmur
Sometimes it was
A pulse
Sometimes it seemed
To disappear
But then with a quarter-turn
Of the head
It would roll around the sofa
A nimbus humming cloud
Maybe it’s the hum
Of a calm refrigerator
Cooling on the big night
Cooling on the big night
Maybe it’s the hum
Of our parents’ voices
Long ago in a soft light
Long ago in a dimmed light
Maybe it’s the hum
Of changing opinion
Or a foreign language
In prayer
Or a foreign language
In prayer
Maybe it’s the mantra
Of the walls and wiring
Deep breathing
In soft air
Deep breathing
In soft air

I want to be:

  • Becoming aware of these moments. And practicing them
  • Becoming aware that the bottom line isn’t really the bottom line but it is just easier to measure.
  • And for you too. Little things that will point to your deepest longings
  • I want to be there for that.
  • I want to be receptive and ready
  • I want to know the joy of my deepest longings being satisfied. A bit now and fully in time.
  • And like Mary I will hold them close and rehearse them, ponder them. Embrace my joy
  • Knowing that what the shepherds saw and what Mary held in her heart and the baby in a manger began a long series of something that will one day make real on earth, peace and goodwill to humankind .
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