This is the third Sunday of Advent. We have been observing this church tradition in anticipation of Christmas. As we have already learned, the word advent means “to come” and this season looks forward to the coming of Christ. By recognizing His first advent in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago, we foreshadow His second coming for the church - an event for which we eagerly wait.
Each week of Advent we have lit an additional candle on our wreath. The first candle represented the hope we have in Jesus and His soon return. The second candle represented the peace we have in Christ. This week we have lit the third candle, which represents joy. In our focal text, notice that the angels declared to the shepherds a message that would bring great joy to all people. As the great Christmas hymn proclaim, “Joy to the world! The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King!”
You may be wondering why the joy candle is pink, seeing that the other three outer candles are purple. What is the reason for this difference? The purple candles represent the solemn, repentant preparation we make in our hearts in preparation for the Lord’s arrival. The pink, or rose-colored candle, was originally taken from the orthodox church’s observance of Lent (the weeks prior to Easter) and subsequently applied to Advent as well when this tradition began. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that the pink candle marks the middle of the Advent season and is a day of celebration and rejoicing.
This morning, in keeping with the spirit of the season, we will emphasize the theme of joy. As we consider the coming of Jesus, we as Christians should be filled with overwhelming joy. Is there anything better or more wonderful than knowing Christ personally? Beloved, we are the redeemed children of God, and we should be the most joyful people of all!
I. THE MEANING OF JOY
The definition of joy as written in the Easton Bible dictionary is “ Happiness over an unanticipated or present good.” If you search most dictionaries, both Biblical and non-biblical, you will find that they generally define joy as a feeling or an emotion that involves happiness or gladness. Some common synonyms include bliss, cheer, delight, glee, satisfaction, and wonder. Joy and happiness are both used repeatedly, sometimes synonymously, and on occasion together in many translations of Scripture.
For some reason, in recent history Christians have tried to separate the meanings of joy and happiness as if they are completely different. Many have explained that happiness is a fleeting external emotion that comes primarily from the things of this world, while joy is an inner state of contentment that abides within the heart of a believer. Some have even demonized happiness, stating that Christians shouldn’t be happy or that God isn’t concerned about their happiness. Such a proposal is simply not true.
God does desire for His children to be happy. He wants them to rejoice and be glad. This is certainly not His number one concern for our lives, but it is still important to Him. The problem is that many Christians aren’t happy at all. They have set their minds on the things of this world and feel defeated and discouraged. When asked, many will say that they have joy in their hearts without showing any gladness in their expression. Really? What good is joy that doesn’t produce happiness and delight? It would seem to be much like a faith that doesn’t produce good works - dead. It is true that joy and happiness are not exactly the same, but they are closely related - not completely different.
II. THE SOURCE OF JOY
[Jesus speaking] “I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” - John 15:11
The true distinction that should be made is not between the meaning of happiness and joy, but rather th e source of our happiness and joy. Those who find their pleasure in earthly things like money, fame, or power will never be fully satisfied. This is one of the major themes of the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes. Solomon tried to find pleasure in virtually everything that the world had to offer, but ultimately nothing generated a lasting happiness or joy in his life. This is because he wasn’t looking in the right places - he was tapping into the wrong source.
One of the major errors that many Christians make is to seek joy through religion. They believe that the activities of the church will make them happy. Oh how disappointed many of them must be! The demands of religion can be so disheartening and deflating. Many find church to be burden, like something to be endured. Don’t get me wrong - there are some times of joy and gladness. But if we are honest, the church and religion have been the source of much discouragement and sorrow in our lives. This too is the wrong source.
The only one that can bring about lasting joy in our lives is Jesus Christ. When we know Him as our personal Lord and Savior, he fills us with joy and gladness. His presence within us makes us complete. He occupies the void in our souls in a way that nobody or nothing else can. He alone is the source of true joy and happiness. As the popular chorus goes - “He has made me glad, He has made me glad! I will rejoice for He has made me glad.” We must set our gaze upon Him and accept no other substitute.
III. THE EXPRESSION OF JOY
This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24
The Word of God doesn’t just speak about joy, it also commands Christians to rejoice. Rejoicing is the outward expression of inner joy. The LORD expects His children to exhibit their gladness and cheerfulness openly and outwardly. We are to put our joyfulness on display. There are many ways this can been done, but some that quickly come to mind include smiling, laughing, playing, enjoying ourselves, and having fun. We should rejoice every day!
Difficulties and hardships are a real and painful reality in every person’s life. It is virtually impossible to be happy all the time. That said, many believers constantly act gloomy and sad. It is as if they have no joy at all. Some of the most somber, melancholy people I’ve ever met are professing Christians! Many church worship services are downright depressing. I am certain Christianity would be more appealing to the lost if Christians would learn to express their joy.
I read the story of a congregation that was challenged to convey their joy in a unique way. One summer Sunday morning the church met outside and each person was given a small helium balloon. They were instructed to release the balloon at any time during the worship service when they felt joyful or glad. During the singing several balloons could be seen floating up into the sky. As the pastor preached the good news of Jesus more balloons took flight. But when the service ended, more than one third of the people still held their balloons. Was there nothing to be cheerful for? Beloved, you are a child of God - release your balloon!
We are now at the midpoint of the Advent season. Christmas is only two weeks away. The birth of our Messiah is drawing near. Today is a day to rejoice! Jesus is coming. May the joy that is within you, supplied by Christ himself, overflow into rejoicing and celebration. Let happiness, cheerfulness, thankfulness, and delight abound in your life today - and everyday.
Next week we will deal with the topic of love as we conclude these sermons leading up to Christmas. Until then, may your life visibly and publicly declare the joy of Christ that abides within you. Rejoice in the LORD always, and again I say rejoice!