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Joy is born this day

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Luke 2:15-20

This is the Advent week of joy. “Joy” is most simply defined as “contentment which transcends circumstances.” “Happiness” is based on “happenings;” joy transcends them.

Would you like real joy today? Where will you go to find it?

Many of us will try possessions, especially at Christmas.

I’ve been keeping a file on unusual products for sale this Christmas season. Do you know someone who needs a new cell phone? Vertu has one for only $19,450. New entertainment? There’s a plethora of new video games, which will help Americans spend a total of $10 billion on video games this year. Help around the house? Consider a mobile robot driven by a palm pilot. New technology? Give some eyeglasses which display e-mail and surf the Web.

Perhaps your wife would like some special clothing. Buy her a jewel-encrusted set of underwear from Victoria’s Secret for only $10 million. Maybe your husband is a James Bond fan. Buy him the same car 007 drives in his new movie, for only $255,000. Unfortunately, unlike the car in the movie, his won’t disappear. But maybe he’ll have joy, at least until next year’s model appears.

Can people give you joy which transcends circumstances? They need joy as much as you do. Position? It won’t be enough for long. Performance? Until your next performance.

Today you can experience joy—true, meaningful contentment transcending your every circumstance, no matter what it is. But only if you’ll make this story your own.

Have you ever noticed that Luke gives twice as much coverage to the shepherds as to their Savior (1-7 vs. 8-20)? Let’s see why.

Seek joy in Bethlehem

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (v. 15).

The shepherds “said”—the word indicates a repeated and continuous action. They began talking to each other, all at once, as excited as the women who attended Janet’s first baby shower.

“Let us go to Bethlehem”—the Greek indicates that they had a distance to travel, but they didn’t care. It also contains a small Greek word untranslatable in English, a word which conveys a tremendous sense of urgency. “Let us right now get up and hurriedly go” would render the idea.

“And see this thing that has happened”—the birth was a fact of history. Something shepherds could see. No one in the first century, not even the worst critics of the Christian faith, thought to deny that Jesus was a real person born in a real place.

“Which the Lord has told us about.” They know this is from God, and of God.

King David, the man for whom Bethlehem was called the “city of David,” once said to the Lord: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). “Joy in your presence,” in the presence of God. These shepherds don’t know it yet, but that’s exactly what they are about to find in the cave, at the feed trough, in the most unlikely place. Joy in the presence of God.

There is nowhere else to find it.

Job 20:4-5: “Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since man was placed on the earth, that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.” Joy is found only with God. It is a gift only God can give.

Zig Ziglar writes about seeing a well-known interviewer and commentator on television. The discussion was about the death of comedian Freddie Prinz. Mr. Prinz had taken his own life, and the commentator was asked, “Do you know of any other superstar in athletics, music, entertainment, the television industry, or movies who might also be in danger of either deliberately or accidentally taking his own life?” After a moment’s reflection, she answered, “I don’t know of anyone who is famous in these fields who is not in danger of either deliberately or accidentally taking his own life, because I don’t know a single one who is happy” (Zig Ziglar, Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World, rev. ed. [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002] 207).

Would you like to find true joy this morning? Then go to Bethlehem. Do as the shepherds did. Travel any distance. Get up and go there now. You say you can’t go there? It’s too far? It’s not safe these days? Here’s the good news: you don’t need to go to the city of David; the Son of David has come to Dallas. To you. He’s waiting for you, with joy for your heart. Seek it from him. And from him alone. And “the joy of the Lord will be your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Find the Son of God

“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (v. 16).

They “found” him—the original word describes a search in order to find. The went from stable to stable until they found this child lying in a manger, a feed trough. And then they knew they had found the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. They found the Son of God.

Note that they just walked uninvited into the cave which was his birthing room. I never visit a newborn baby without checking first with the nurse, then washing my hands, then knocking at the door. These rough, dirty, smelly field hands just rushed right in. Jesus was born in a place which had no doors, no locks, no nurses, no way to keep people out. He was born there on purpose, for anyone can come into a cave. Anyone can come to the Christ.

And find in him true joy.

The joy of salvation is found only in Jesus: “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11).

Jesus told his followers: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Rejoice that he has forgiven your sins and saved your soul, making you the child of God and giving you eternal life: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).

How long has it been since you considered your salvation in Christ? Realized that you will live forever in God’s perfect and glorious heaven? Been grateful that you are the child of God, loved unconditionally by the Creator of the universe? Heaven rejoices in your salvation: “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15.7).

When you ask Christ into your heart, his Holy Spirit comes to dwell in your life. And what are the results, the “fruit” of the Spirit? “Love, joy….” (Galatians 5:22).

Actress Katherine Hepburn once said, “I don’t know what one means by ‘happy.’ I’m happy spasmodically. If I eat a chocolate Turtle, I’m happy. When the box is empty, I’m unhappy. When I get another box, I’m happy again.”

Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). And he promised, “…no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22). Do you want true joy? Seek it from God alone, through Christ. Ask him to forgive your sins and be your Savior, and you’ll have his joy. Remember your salvation with gratitude and wonder, and you’ll have his joy. And “the joy of the Lord will be your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Share the word of God

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them”

(vs. 17-18). They “spread the word” about Jesus, becoming the first ever to preach the gospel. The first evangelists of the Christian era.

Shepherds who could not worship in the synagogue or Temple, who were unclean spiritually and morally, who inhabited the lowest caste in Jewish society—they were the first to hear of Christmas, and the first to tell it to others. If they could, who can’t?

Joy comes from the word of God. From receiving it: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16). From sharing it: after Philip preached the good news in Samaria, “there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8).

Joy comes from bringing others to faith in the Son of God: “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). This is the so-called “soul winner’s crown.” And it was worn first in Christian history by peasant field hands, who knew its joy.

Dwight Moody was the greatest evangelist of his generation. Here is his testimony: “I am so thankful that I have a joy that the world cannot rob me of; I have a treasure that the world cannot take from me; I have something that is not in the power of man or devil to deprive me of, and that is the joy of the Lord.”

Conclusion

Do you have true, life-transcending joy this morning? If not, let me ask you: are you seeking it in the possessions, people, position, or performance of your circumstances, or in God alone? Have you given your faith and life to Jesus Christ? Are you sharing that faith through your words, your work, and your witness, through your example and your life?

The shepherds did. And they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (v. 20). If they found joy, so can we. So can you. No matter how hard your circumstances may be today. And “the joy of the Lord will be your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

“…Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm126:5).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11).

“…I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (2 Corinthians 7:4).

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Joy was born when Christ was born. Dirty, rejected field hands found it. Will it be born again in your life today? That’s up to you.

Britain’s King George III wrote in his diary, “July 4, 1776. Nothing happened today.” What will your soul write in its diary this morning?