Advent Candles (Read by Children)
Cong Sings: O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
R1: God of joy, you enter the wilderness of our world.
R2: You break through our sadness and bring good news to your people.
R1: You show us that there is a way to reach home again.
R2: You send joy in the form of a tiny baby.
R1: People, sing joyfully with the psalmist and prophet:
Cong: [The Lord] did do great things with us; and we are overjoyed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God…
(Psalm 126:3 CJB, Isa 61:10 NRSV)
R1: We light the candle of hope. We light the candle of peace. We light the candle of joy, knowing that joy is our true home.
[Light candles one and two and three as the above line is being read].
Cong Sings: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Bible Reading From Psalm 30
1 I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. 2 I called to you for help, and you healed me. 4 Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. 5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning… 10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; be my help. 11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will praise you forever. (NIV)
Message “Joy is our True Home” Philippians 4:4-13
(All verses quoted below are from the NIV)
That song (Psalm 30), was written for the dedication of the Temple. It reminds people what it is like to live in covenant relationship with God. To put it in simple terms, life doesn’t always give us an easy journey, and we can choose to turn away from God’s covenant agreement with his people and continue to experience the consequences of our choices; or we can turn to God, call to him for mercy and praise his holy name – and in his timing, he will graciously lift us up, help us, heal us, turn our life from mourning for sin to the joy of salvation from sin, restoring our standing in the covenant, which ultimately will lead us to praise his name forever. In those days, the covenant promises were strongly tied to the land and the harvest and security from enemies. It is still a featured song that is chanted during Hanukkah -- the celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple that took place in 167 BC. The psalm was also a powerful song of hope during the difficult days of exile as they awaited God making a way for them to return home to God and to the promised land – and I would also imagine during the stressful process of rebuilding their homes and communities once they arrived. It was during reconstruction that Nehemiah reminded them that the joy of the Lord was their strength (Nehemiah 8:10) (God’s pleasure with his people would make the people strong); and today’s covenant Psalm reminds us that knowing that God’s soon coming mercy and favor would strengthen them for the task and give them joy even as they pushed ahead in desperate times.
because the Lord is near
through Christ’s strength
Likewise, Paul wrote to his dear friends in Philippi to Rejoice in the Lord, and we can rejoice even in difficult times because we know he is near (4:5b), (meaning coming soon and meaning close by) and because he is, he is able to give us strength to be joy filled in the middle of every circumstance… (4:13) But saying it does not make it so, so Paul wraps around these statements some practical suggestions on how to help us find joy, even in dire circumstances.
Rejoice again by displaying gentleness
First, Paul says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (4:5). Other versions call it patience, kindness, moderation, reasonableness, graciousness, unselfish, considerate. I summarize it as “overly generous with your mercy for other people”. It is a lot easier to find joy if we aren’t stressed out by our perception of those things that everyone else is doing or not doing the way we would like it to be done. Don’t stress out about that so be patient with others, gentle with others, gracious with others, let them do what they have to do, and hopefully they’ll do the same for us as we all follow Him.
Rejoice again by not worrying, but praying
This is easier done if we replace worry with prayer. Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:6,7) This is easier said than done, but it is based on a head and heart knowledge that our loving, caring God is in control, and that we believe God is bigger than the problem, and that prayer changes things; and trusting that God knows what is best for us (even better than we do) and for others as well…
Rejoice again seeing the positive
And in a prayer filled life, we begin to focus on and fill our lives with “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (4:8 (See also 4:11-12)) When Paul says to “think about” he literally means “dwell on”. Consume your life with these positive things – make them your focus. The old computer science math formula of GIGO (garbage in garbage out) is still true, and not just in math and computer science. What we consume is what makes us what we are. So, if in our entertainment, our work, our social life, all we fill ourselves with is dark and violent and negative thinking, it will impact us. If we do the opposite, if we take on those practices that I just read, if we feed our life with those positive things, those joyful thing, that will also impact us -- and will also bleed out of us (both negative or positive will). So train to see God’s gracious gift and guidance into a more and more positive, joyful life, and being content regardless of what we face day after day.
Rejoice again by acting on it
And what we learn, from our focus and inspired guidance, we need to, Paul, says, “put it into practice” (4:9b). That isn’t always easy either. The Denver Zoo purchased a polar bear. They had to keep him caged in a relatively small space while they were building the natural environment for him to enjoy. He could take about 3 paces and turn around. Three paces and turn. After many lengthy delays, they finally finished his habitat and they carefully released him into this wide open, spacious habitat they have prepared for him, and you know what he did? He took 3 paces and turned around… Some of us have grown up with that training that makes us focus on negative things, or we have that type of personality, or all kinds of things can happen to lead us to pessimism. Like the polar bear, we need to retrain ourselves, and maybe take a fourth step in one direction, and then a fifth one – and then start moving along. train ourselves to find the positive and dismiss the negative.
Rejoice again seeking joy for others
And then Paul says, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were con-cerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” (4:10) Paul’s joy is not because he is selfishly desiring to get all kinds of stuff from the church. He goes on to say he needs nothing and that he has learned to be perfectly content. His joy is because he is assured that the caring relationship they have is still solid and good and continuing, and he also knows in his heart that when we care and serve others and desire their joy, it makes it a lot easier to receive joy – anyone who has been on a mission team knows this. When you are serving others, that is where the joy comes from.
As a puppy said to a big dog, “I’ve studied philosophy, and I know all the problems of the Universe. And I have decided that the meaning of life is happiness, and that happiness is in my tail – so I am chasing it, and when I find it, I shall be happy.” The big, wiser dog said, “I agree that happiness is a fine thing, and that happiness is in the tail; but I have also noticed that when I chase after it, it keeps running away from me. But when I move to make others happy, it follows me and wags all the more.”
Do not seek things that promise ultimate happiness as an end in itself -- over time you may be disappointed in the constant chase, and if you manage to sink your teeth into it, it may even hurt you. Instead, seek to push forward toward meaningful purpose in making life on earth better for others, and happiness may well follow along.
Let me close with this modern parable that takes us back to Psalm 30. Standing in a very long line in a store were a mother, a tween and a toddler. The tween had a pack of glow sticks and the toddler was screaming for them. The mom opened the pack and gave him one, which instantly stopped his tears and he started smiling. Mom started putting the purchases on the conveyer belt. The tween snatched the glow stick from the toddler who instantly started screaming again. Mom whirled from emptying the cart to do some screaming on her own – well, disciplining of her own. But just as she was opening her mouth to scold the older child, he finished bending the glow stick (you know how you have to do that to get it to glow?) and handed it back to the toddler, who now saw it glowing and his wailing turned to laughing and dancing. And as they walked to the car, the older boy told the toddler, “I know you were happy just waving it around, but I had to break it so you could get the full effect of it. And now you see how it glows!”
1) God so loved the world that he gave his only son (that’s Christmas), that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For the full effect of his love – for our salvation, Jesus had to be broken on a cross. Hebrews reminds us that it was for the joy of that salvation that he endured the cross, refusing to accept the shame that is associated with it, and because he went through it all he returns to the joy of heaven where he sits down with the Father. (Hebrews 12:2)
2) When we seem deprived, and shamed, and life wants to break us – God uses that to fulfill his creative purposes in us – that we aren’t just waving around in empty motions, but may glow and shine for him, (Philippians 2:14-16) filling the good purposes for which we were created. (Ephesians 2:10) And someday, he will turn our pain into joy; a joy which we can already experience as we find full and meaningful living by picking up our cross (making sacrifices, putting things away) so that we can follow Jesus. (Luke 9:23-25)
Someone said, the purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away. We will best find joy when we discover and use our God given gifts to fully give ourselves to filling our God given purpose in our lives, our home, our church our communities and beyond. The Israelites were crushed under the load of exile – away from home, and in their mind – away from God. Maybe some of us feel that way too – broken under the load of circumstances. My hope for you is the hope Isaiah had for these people (Isaiah 55:12), that you shall go out (from captivity) with joy and be led forth in peace (back to the promised land) – Even though they had a daunting task ahead of them, -- what joy it was, and celebration that even all God’s nature is excited and cheering them on as they make the journey home to our God who is the joy of our true home… Let’s sing that hopeful march song…
Closing Song TFWS # 2279 The Trees of the Field
Know without a doubt that the great mystery of our faith is confirmed by the Spirit, seen by angels, and announced to the nations, believed in throughout the world: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who makes his home around - with - and in -- all who will welcome him. Amen.