Jesus Christ: Joy to the World

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, December 16, 2018 0 comments

by Logan Ames

Without exception, there are only two kinds of people in this world: 1) those who support the playing of Christmas music before Thanksgiving (and frankly, anytime throughout the year), or 2) those who are just simply WRONG. If you either don’t like Christmas music at all or can’t find joy in it anytime, then I assume you must have been deprived as a child. I personally love this time of year and everything about it, including the special music. It brings me great joy, especially as I think about what the presence of Jesus means for my life.

Joy is something that can be lacking at times in the Church. Isaac Watts noticed this and realized that it shouldn’t be that way. Watts was an English minister and songwriter who created many hymns that are popular around the world. One of his most well-known songs is one we sing throughout this season, Joy to the World. But as I did some research on this wonderful song on a website for The Gospel Coalition, I learned that Watts was inspired not by joy, but by a lack of joy. The song was considered to be a disturbance to many in church who were so used to worship services consisting of psalms or other sections of Scripture put to music. But Watts considered that practice monotonous and noticed a lack of joy and emotion in the people as they worshiped. He was quoted as saying, "To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of the whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion." To put it in simpler terms, if those who are merely observing Christian worship with an interested eye see that those who should be excited and joyful are not, what would make them want to take part?

How we worship when we’re in church can say a lot about how we live the Christian walk. After realizing his son’s frustration with the lack of joy from the Christian church, Isaac Watts’ father issued him a challenge to do something about the issue and it led him on a lifelong pursuit of writing lyrics that reminded Christians of their joy in Christ. In the midst of life’s difficulties, are you able to focus on the joy you have in Christ? If you don’t have a relationship with him, then your answer is obviously “no." But for the many who read this who know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, this time of year more than any should remind us of the true source of our joy.

Knowing that Jesus, who is God, didn't require us to live a sinless existence and come to him, but instead chose to leave the perfection of heaven and enter into our messed up world, ought to bring us joy no matter what else is going on around us. Christmas provides us with an opportunity to reflect on that truth and to experience joy even when we're going through difficult times. Let's talk about what can stand in the way of experiencing joy. One thing that often does is our fear and insecurity regarding others’ opinions of us. In the Old Testament, they had this chest box called the ark of the covenant, which had the stone tablets of the law in them. It represented God and his covenant relationship with the Israelites. In 2 Samuel 6:12-22, King David has the ark brought into Jerusalem. When it gets there, he decides to start dancing with all his might and celebrating while the rest of the nation praised God with shouts and music. Later, his wife Michal despises him for it and accuses him of making a fool of himself in front of servant girls and others. David responds, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor” (v. 22). Sometimes, even someone close to you might try to steal your joy, and it’s up to you to respond to God according to what he’s done and is doing in your life.

Another thing that can stand in the way of our joy is comparing ourselves to others. Luke 15:11-32 is the Parable of the Lost Son, in which Jesus told of a father with two sons. The younger brother demanded his inheritance early, then ran off to a foreign country and squandered his wealth, then came back to his father humble and repentant. The father rejoices at the sight of his son returning home, but the older brother who never left grows angry and begins to complain that his father never celebrated him the way his brother is now being celebrated. Rather than rejoice at the sight of his brother returning, he was robbed of any joy because all he could think about was how he was being slighted in comparison to his brother.

Our difficult circumstances are probably the most common things that stand in the way of our joy. You lose a job you loved, a sudden loss of a loved one, family dysfunction especially at the holidays, someone rear ends you and totals your car while you're just sitting at a stop light – these are the circumstances that threaten to steal our joy. But let me ask you something, does joy happen by choice or by chance? James, the brother of Jesus, tells us it’s by choice. In James 1:2-3, he urges us to consider it pure joy when we face difficulties because we know we are being tested and perseverance is being developed. We don’t have to be joyful ABOUT the trials, but we can be joyful in the midst of them. Rather than complain about all the things going wrong, we can view each difficulty as an opportunity to turn back to the Lord. Charles Spurgeon was quoted as saying, “I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages." We don’t typically turn back to him on our own, so he uses some of our trials to cause us to turn to him. At Christmastime, we celebrate the knowledge that the long-awaited Messiah has come to our rescue right where we are, in the midst of our sinful existence. That reality alone gives us reason to be joyful no matter what else is going on in our lives.

The last thing I’ll mention that can stand in the way of our joy is our distractions. This might be one of the biggest problems during the holidays with all of our shopping, festivities, and family gatherings. Our plans, worries, and material things can keep us from experiencing the true joy of celebrating Christ’s birth. This was probably the case for the Magi in Matthew 2 before they came face-to-face with the Son of God. However, vv. 10-11 tell us they followed the star and were overjoyed when they saw it over the house of the Savior, and that when they finally saw him, they worshiped him and then opened their treasures and gave he and his family gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These people had gone on a long journey to try to find the “king of the Jews” (v. 1), which shows they didn’t even fully understand who they were looking for. They had no idea he was the Savior of the world until they came into his presence. But once they did, nothing else mattered. Their material treasures, traveling plans, and concerns about King Herod suddenly seemed completely irrelevant.

The joy that the Magi experienced was not just a feeling. Their experience with the Messiah led them to ACTION. They treasures they opened were expensive items and they gave them to Jesus and his poor family. Their lives were changed forever and they were no longer going to allow their treasures to distract them from what was most important. The Magi set a good precedent for us. If we want to have true joy in this suffering world, it's as simple as J-O-Y: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. Worship Jesus first, give to others and look out for them, then consider yourself last. Jesus told us these are the two greatest commandments in Matthew 22:37-40. As you ponder the entrance of Jesus into your world over the next few weeks, I encourage you to consciously avoid these pitfalls that keep you from true joy and to practice the working formula that leads you to unspeakable JOY.

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