Joy to the World

Dec 23rd 2011

Joy is not a very cool word. It’s only three letters. It doesn’t make the top 100 baby names. The only time you hear it in a song is at Christmas. But the Bible talks a lot about joy.  In fact it would be easy to argue from the Bible that joy is at the heart of God’s plan for humanity.  Scriptures like the following are all over the place in God’s Words to us.

Psalm 16:11 You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.

Psalm 19:8 The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart.

John 15:11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

Tim Hansel tells the story of an 82 year old man who felt that his freedom to choose joy had been taken from him. He had served as a pastor for over 50 years. But in the last handful of years had struggled with skin cancer — a survivor of 15 operations. Besides suffering from pain, he was so embarresed about how the cancer had scarred his appearance that he never went out in public.

One day he was given the book You Gotta Keep Dancing. And he read the story of Tim Hansel’s long struggle with the chronic, intense pain he received from a near-fatal climbing accident. Hansel told of the day he realized that this pain would be with him forever. At that moment he made a pivotal decision, he knew that it was up to him to choose how he responded to it.  So he chose joy.

The elderly pastor put the book down, thinking He’s crazy.  I can’t choose joy.” Then later he was reading John 15:11 where Jesus says that joy is a gift. “I want to give you my joy”, Jesus said, “so that your joy may be complete.” He didn’t know what to do, so he got down on his knees.  He didn’t know what to say, so he said, “Well then Lord, give it to me.”

And suddenly, as he described it, this incredible hunk of joy came from heaven and landed on him. “I was overwhelmed,” he wrote.  “It was like the joy talked about in Peter, joy unspeakable and full of glory. I didn’t know what to say, so I said, `Turn it on, Lord, turn it on.'”

Before he knew it he was dancing around the house. 82 and he was so filled with joy he just had to get out, too much joy to keep cooped up. So he went to the local fastfood restaurant to get a burger. A lady saw how happy he was and asked, “How are you doing?”

He said, “I’m wonderful.”

“Is it your birthday,” she asked.

“No honey, it’s better than that.”

“Your anniversary?”

“Better than that.”

“Well what is it?” she asked with growing excitement.

“It’s the joy of Jesus. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

The lady shrugged, kind of deflated, and answered, “No, I have to work on Sundays.”

Joy. Can you find joy if you have to work on Sundays? Can joy be a part of my life, if my life is filled with pain? Can joy be a part of my Christmas, when Christmas falls short of hopes and expectations? The very first Christmas, the angel’s announced, “Don’t be afraid.  I bring good news of great joy for all people.”  That’s where it starts.  It’s a gift given in spite of circumstances.

Joy is our theme this Christmas Eve at Calvary.  You are welcome to join us at 3pm, 5pm, 7pm, or 9pm at 1250 University Drive, State College.