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EXPERIENCING TRUE JOY
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
11 DECEMBER 1988
By Frank L. Hoffman
Preparation Verse: (Habakkuk 3:18)
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
In this the third of our Advent sermon series, we are going to discuss how
all of us here, and everyone else in the world, should be experiencing true joy.
Some people confuse the meanings of joy and happiness, thinking that they mean the same thing, when in fact they don't.
Happiness is the excitement and pleasure we feel from time to time when events or times we enjoy occur.
Happiness comes and goes, and can be intermixed with times of sadness.
Joy, on the other hand, is always there. It sees us through the good and the bad times. It never departs from us.
We may, at times, forget about our joy; but then, even in the midst of a tragedy, the joy emerges.
True joy is a gift of God.
And the key to our experiencing true joy is our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and our being filled with His love, an unconditional love that extends to the whole of creation.
In our Old Testament lesson for this morning, Psalm 1, we hear the psalmist expressing this very fact: that true joy, or delight, is centered in God. Let's take another look at it:
1. How blessed is the man who does not walk in the
counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
Isn’t it hard to be joyful when we are around people who are always doing
things that are knowingly and deliberately sinful, and who are always scoffing
at the things of God, and at the unconditional love and compassion of truly
sensitive people, particularly when we are one of them?
Therefore, when we are not with such people, we are blessed.
Then what brings us to this joyful state? Note what the psalmist says:
2. But his delight is in the law of the Lord.
And in His law he meditates day and night.
Now wait a minute. How can anyone delight in law? How can we be joyful over
"You can't do this. You must do that. Stop! No! Don't!" The answer is that we
can't, if that is where we limit ourselves.
But note how Jesus answered a similar question in Matthew 22:36-40.
36. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"
37. And He said to him, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
38. "This is the great and foremost commandment.
39. "The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
40. "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
Upon these two love passages stands the whole Bible and everything written in
it: all its laws and all the writings of the prophets. It is all fulfilled by
Then since this is true, we should be able to substitute love for the law; for if we truly love God and our neighbors, there would be no need for the law to protect us from each other.
Furthermore, if we truly love God in this unconditional way, we would also naturally love the whole of His creation, which includes every other human being, all the animals, and the world in which we all live.
Now let’s go back and see what the psalmist is really saying in verse 2: But his delight is in the love of the Lord, and in His love he meditates day and night.
What happens to us, or someone else, when we receive this Christmas gift of love?
3. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams
Which yields its fruit in its season,
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
4. The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
5. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.
Yes, God knows each and every one of us, and most of all He knows the intent
of our hearts.
And He knew from the beginning that man, if left to his own efforts, would eventually perish.
This is His great love: that He sent His own Son to save all who would listen and receive Him as Lord and Savior.
And when we receive this great Christmas gift, we are filled with His love, and thus have true joy.
But we can lose this joy when we fight against this unconditional love by
giving into the ways of the world that cause so much suffering and death to
millions of our fellow human beings and billions of animals every year.
Two thousand years ago, the Israelites were expectantly waiting for the coming of Messiah, so that He would make all things new.
This was true even of the shepherds in the vicinity of Bethlehem, as we heard in our New Testament lesson for this morning, Luke 2:8-11. Let's look at it again:
8. And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields,
and keeping watch over their flock by night.
9. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
10. And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people;
11. for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Why did God choose to have the angel deliver this good news, this great joy, to
the common people, and not to the leaders of the people?
The leaders, with the exception of a few, were hard of heart. They were not open to receive what God had for them. They looked at any outside leader as being a threat to their position. They were not true shepherds of their people.
But the shepherds of the field were taking care of their flock, and even though they were frightened by the heavenly presence, their hearts were open to receive all that God had for them.
They also were not prideful. They would share this good news, this great joy, with others.
Thus God poured out His great joy upon them, and the more they would share this joy with others, the more they would receive.
Note also another confirmation of joy. Messiah is God. Jesus Christ is God.
Mankind is not going to be dealing with just another man; they are going to be dealing with God, who will not lead any astray, as the leaders of the people had and have been doing.
Joy is a gift of God, and like anything given from one to another, it is not a gift unless it is received.
Just knowing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior does not bring true joy; for as we are told in James 2:19, even the demons believe this, and yet they shudder.
In order for anyone to receive this great Christmas gift of God's love, our Messiah must be born; not just two thousand years ago, but right now in each of our hearts.
And just as the shepherds heard this message and shared it, so also are we to do the same.
For as we share the good news of Christ's birth and His free gift of salvation, our joy is increased.
And as many as receive this message, they also will receive this great joy, for they will be filled with the love of God.
God's love gift does not contain just one thing, as do most of the physical gifts we exchange. His gift has many items in it.
When we receive Christ in our hearts, and experience His birth within us, we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
And just as Jesus Christ, born as man, had to grow in order to bring forth the fruit of His message, so also must we allow the fruit of the Spirit to mature in us.
What is the fruit of the Spirit?
Note the answer we are given in Galatians 5:22-23.
22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
23. gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Isn’t this gift, this fruit of the Spirit, expressing the true Christmas spirit?
All of these fruit come in the same gift. None are left out.
And if any of us feel that something is missing in us, then we haven't opened our entire gift, and the only way we can do that is to open ourselves up completely to Jesus Christ.
Did you also hear the confirmation of what we were saying about the fulfillment of the law?
No law was ever written countering the fruit of the Spirit. And if we live in the fruit of the Spirit, we won't even desire to do the things that the law was written to prevent us from doing.
Note that the subject of today's sermon is about joy, and that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit. Note also that happiness is not one of the fruit; for, as we said, it comes and goes.
But all of the fruit work together. If we don't accept one of the fruit, all of the other fruit will suffer.
Our true joy is accomplished through our seeing all of these other fruit functioning together.
Have you allowed Jesus Christ to be born in your heart with all His unconditional love?
If you have, then you also have been given the fruit of the Spirit.
And if you have not, then now is the time to ask Him in.
It's simple, if you believe that Jesus is the Christ; just ask Him to come into your heart, and make room for Him by confessing your sins and asking for forgiveness. Your prayer will be answered.
Then you will know what it means to experience true joy.
And we, as the body of Christ, will truly celebrate Christmas as it ought to be, by sharing the fruit of the Spirit with everyone; and all who receive, and all who give, will be filled with true joy.