1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NRSV)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
I have come to the conclusion that I am not a very joyful person.
I struggle with just letting go and being joyful
My inner child is kept pretty closely guarded and hidden away
I don’t know why I am that way ---
I don’t always like that I am that way
But it is just the way that I am
Sometimes I am afraid to be too joyful --- wondering if people will like me or respect me if I am?
When I try to force myself to be joyful --- I feel phony and dishonest.
Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy.
Remember how the angels sang:
“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”
Yet for many people, Christmas is anything but joyful.
All kinds of factors can make this a most difficult and challenging season.
Our society makes the holiday season all about families and getting together
That can be very difficult for those who have no family or whose family lives a long way away
Think of Erin's mom Peggy who is having major surgery on December 23rd
Can you image the anxiety at their household
Erin shared this with me:
The best outcome includes loss of hearing in left ear, facial paralysis for up to 18 months and radiation. The worst case scenario is not necessarily life threatening, just effects her quality of life. It would include a feeding tube and some kind of tracheotomy.
I cannot fathom how difficult this season is for them.
· Loss of a loved one
On Saturday Dec 17th, 2011 Nancy's Dad, Ed Hollowell died after a long battle following multiple strokes. We got the word of his passing during rehearsal for the children's pageant that morning.
We left following church on the 18th, swinging by to pick up the girls, to make the long trip to the North Carolina coast
His funeral was three days later, December 20th --- and I had the privilege of presiding over it.
You can imagine how Christmas was at our house that year. We got home, on Dec 23rd, just in time for me to get the final preparations for Ridge's Christmas Eve service done. I wasn't in the most joyful spirit that year! I think I was just going through the motions
Later that year --- somebody told me how terrible my sermon was that Christmas Eve --- I wasn't surprised --- it was a hard time
· Divorced families
Scott McClellan in an article he wrote for the Storyline blog tells a powerful story.
It’s Christmas 1989, and my dad’s black Chevy Beretta is idling out at the curb. Time is up at my mom’s for my sister and me, and now we have to shuffle off to another destination on the other side of town, on the other side of this fractured family tree.
We’d woken up early that morning and tried to rush through the presents and breakfast. We’d packed the night before and hurried to change out of new pajamas and into new sweaters and jeans.
But we still ran out of time.
I wanted to stay, to soak in the sense of place and the blessed carnage of scattered boxes and shredded wrapping paper, but no one blocked off space for that on the calendar.
We had to leave right then — that was the agreement — so we could get over there for the early thing, then onto the lunch thing, then back for the later thing after that. Dad was waiting. We had to get onto his things so that we could get through those things and back later for Mom’s things. So many things, but none of them felt sacred.
I was only seven.
But even then I knew Christmas wasn’t supposed to be that way. Movies, TV, songs and commercials told me so. They spoke of magic and meaning, togetherness and tenderness.
Instead, we found ourselves working out the tense implications of a newly minted custody arrangement. . . .
And here’s the thing: Scrooges like me aren’t born; they’re made. One year at a time, one conflict at a time, one fa-la-la-la-la-la-la at a time. Eventually, anticipation gives way to dread. Excitement gives way to anxiety. Revelry gives way to humbuggery.
I am willing to bet, that there are quite a few Scrooges here at Ridge church --- made one circumstances at a time ---- that sometimes seem beyond our control.
So what do we do?
How do we find JOY? Especially during this season . . .
I came across a fascinating article this week about CS Lewis.
Recently a letter that he wrote to a Mrs Ellis on August 19, 1945 was found inside a secondhand book.
What a treasure to find.
This letter was written three years before he wrote his memoir: Surprised by Joy.
Lewis tells Ellis in this letter that “everything is going well”, but goes on to explain that he does not mean “joy” by this. “In fact I meant by ‘things going well’ just that security – or illusion of security – which you also regard as unhealthy. Real joy seems to me almost as unlike security or prosperity as it is unlike agony,” he writes.
“It jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’ nights. It shocks one awake when the other puts one to sleep. My private table is one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure.”
Lewis goes on to write of how “the physical sensations of joy and misery are in my case identical”, and of how “just the same thing happens inside me on getting the good or the bad news”. He adds a short postscript to the letter: “Don’t you know the disappointment when you expected joy from a piece of music and get only pleasure: Like finding Leah when you thought you’d married Rachel!”
Joy, he would write in his memoir, later, “must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again … I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”
Joy is never in our power --- Lewis wrote.
Joy --- "jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one sleepless (at) night. It shocks one awake . . . One second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure.”
Our text this morning from Paul is a letter that he wrote to the church in Thessaloniki, Greece (Macedonia)
Paul is challenging us in some very specific ways.
He tells us:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances
It is a great idea --- but it isn't always very easy
Eugene Boring in his commentary on Mark notes that:
Christian faith embraces the whole of life and is not a matter of moods or 'giving God his part.' All of life can be a joyous celebration of the presence of God. This is not a matter of how one feels but of what God has done for us.
I think most of us make the mistake that Paul, Boring and Lewis are trying to correct. We connect joy with pleasure.
The quote from the front of your bulletin: (Daniel Clendenin)
Joy is more elusive, more subtle and more nuanced than happiness, a predisposition to cheerfulness, persevering with emotional extra effort, or the luck of good fortune. . . . joy is entirely gratuitous. You cannot earn it, buy it or deserve it. It is a divine gift to receive rather than a selfish goal to pursue.
Joy is entirely gratuitous ---- it is a divine gift!
The problem is we think the opposite of joy is sadness or sorrow --- and that is just not true.
The opposite of joy is anxiety.
In other words, the only way we can find joy is to put our trust in God.
Luke 12:22-25 (NRSV)
“I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. . . . Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your . . . life?
John 15:11 (NRSV)
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
The world celebrates the "joy" of Easter and Christmas, but it's not really JOY.
It is more a warm and fuzzy feeling that we connect to the holiday through our memories with family and friends.
Real joy comes only after we allow God to deal with the brokenness in our lives.
We light the candle of JOY today because we want to recognize that Jesus is the climax of all history --- and apart from Jesus we can never find real joy.
Joy isn't something we can make --- joy is something that we are given by God.
We have to quite equating please with joy --- real Joy --- God's joy is a gift for each of us --- if we will slow down long enough --- open our eyes --- open our hearts --- and let God's JOY wash over us.
And when we have that joy --- God wants us to know that we cannot hoard it for ourselves --- it is meant to be shared
And God invites us to be agents in sharing that Joy
We do that by inviting them into that life changing relationship with Jesus
On Thursday this past week I was installed as Chairman of the Board of the Munster Chamber of Commerce.
Seven years ago I served as President of the Munster Rotary Club
And was a member of the Lake County Library Foundation
As well as the Munster Education Foundation
And chaplain of the Munster Police Force
All of those happened because somebody shared with me.
Over ten years ago, I walked into People's Bank to move some bank accounts because the bank we started with when we moved here (Pinnacle Bank) had been bought out and we were not happy with the new bank.
While I was in there I met the Bank Manager (Mike McIntyre) and we began to talk.
He INVITED me to attend a Rotary meeting
And when I didn't show up, he called and offered to pick me up
He INVITED me to the Munster Chamber of Commerce, as well as nominated me for the Muster Education Foundation and the Lake Country Library Foundation
All because he invited me
Who is God nudging you to invite the Christmas?
Share the JOY, share the GRACE, share God's UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
CS Lewis article: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/09/unseen-cs-lewis-letter-defines-joy-surprised-by-joy
Scott McClellan article: http://storylineblog.com/2014/12/09/when-you-cant-find-joy-in-the-christmas-season/
Daniel Clendenin, Journey With Jesus blog for January 15, 2007, journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20070115JJ.shtml