Our conversation today is centered on the third week of Advent. Joy.
Advent is the season of preparation for and recognition of the birth of Jesus. Advent began sometime around the year 480 and has existed in many forms since then.
In our first week, we talked about hope and we ended our conversation with this question -
what does it look like for you to cultivate hope?
Last week we talked about peace and we ended our conversation asking
What is one step you can take toward being a peacemaker in your world?
And today we talk about joy. The joy of Jesus’ arrival on earth.
Spoiler alert: we’ll end this week with a question that challenges us to participate in the joy of Christmas . Be encouraged and allow yourself to grow in this season.
Think about the concept of joy as a child. I asked my kids, “what is joy?” and they gave me some answers that I laughed at, but that were actually very simple and easy to understand.
Think about your own childhood and your experiences of joy. Pick a moment.
Why was that experience joyful for you?
What was the source of that joy?
We often pursue external things in hopes that they will bring us joy. But I think this brings us to the point of clearly defining joy.
What is joy? A lot of us would see it as synonymous with happiness.
But what are the differences between joy and happiness?
Generally speaking, happiness is an experience connected to external realities, whereas joy is an experience connected to internal realities. Happiness is often momentary bliss. Joy is often a state of being, through process, not contingent on situations.
It’s easy to see joy as this picture of positive external things, but you probably know that life isn’t always positive. There’s pain and hardship and negative experiences almost every day, it seems, in some seasons.
Joy is something that, culturally, we can often feel pressure to pretend like we have. Within church, if you’re joyless, that’s just unacceptable. No matter what you’re going through you better have joy! Or at least look like you do.
But part of true joy is the process of learning acceptance that suffering is inevitable, and choosing joy in spite of it.
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Joy is perspective based on God’s promises, not on good circumstances.
Joy is something we can see as a destination to get to. Go through the hard thing and then you’ll get the joy.
But is it a destination or is it something to be experienced and lived in in the midst of hardship?
How does viewing joy as primarily external affect your beliefs and actions?
How does viewing joy as primarily internal affect your beliefs and actions?
Viewing things as primarily external can lead us to the conversation about the concept of “faking it until you make it,” and the term poser might come to mind.
Poser - a person who acts in an affected manner in order to impress others.
Someone who tries to fit into a profile they aren’t or to give off an impression that they are one thing when really they are another. Someone who says they can do something that they can’t actually do.
In Greg’s high school world of skateboarding, poser was one of the worst insults you could give or receive. It implied that you spent the money on the clothes and the board, you acted a certain way, but there was no practice behind the facade.
This was such an intense insult because to be a real skater requires lots of practice, lots of struggle, lots of pain, lots of time, and lots of effort. If you’ve ever tried to skateboard you realize it’s much more than just standing on a board with wheels attached to it.
A poser never went through all the stuff required, but rather tried to skip the hard stuff and still enjoy the benefits.
Culturally, we might look at someone who can’t do something and call them a poser, but there is a huge difference between a poser and an amatuer. The main difference is practice. A poser never practices, but says they can do something. An amateur is aware of where they are and doesn’t overstate their own abilities, but is practicing and working and looking to improve.
What does it look like to be an amateur at joy? Or a poser?
What are the detriments to faking joy?
The way to joy isn’t by avoiding what is difficult.
Joy becomes apparent through pain, suffering, struggle, not in the absence of it.
Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
Jesus doesn’t say joy will come when everything is fixed. Rather, He claims that grief will turn into joy. The bad things we experience do hurt, they are painful, and struggle is inherent to being human. But joy is somehow possible despite these negativities.
So what is needed to get there?
How do we choose to engage in the process of joy?
Joy is not the destination or a gift we get when we arrive somewhere.
Joy is a choice we can make and something we can practice.
Remember, practice is what differentiates a poser from an amateur.
We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
2 Corinthians 6:8-10
I think there is a key to the practice of joy found in these verses. We own nothing and yet we have everything.
What does it look like to practice joy?
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It would seem that joy has a both/and responsibility.
We have the responsibility to practice, to participate, and to trust. As we do this, there is a God-given supernatural joy that is available.
This can be a moment to make a demand or give a directive, and for you to feel the pressure to fake it if you don’t have joy or feel guilty if you don’t have it.
Take a moment to just process what joy looks like in your life.
In my life, the joy of the Lord has been/is/could be_______________________
In 1 Peter we see joy and grief happening almost simultaneously.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
1 Peter 1:6
So the opposite of joy must not be grief or sadness.
In Matthew we see Jesus talk about joy in terms of laying down what you want.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
So the opposite of joy isn’t avoiding the things you want.
Paul talks about how joy isn’t contingent on things going well.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
So the opposite of joy must not be suffering, pain, or hardship.
So what is the opposite?
The opposite of joy is being separate from God.
How is separation from God the opposite of joy?
How is relationship with God joy?
Joy is a recurring theme of the Christmas narrative. We see John the Baptist, in the womb of Elizabeth, leap with joy when Mary enters the same room. We see shepherds witness the declaration of joy to all people from the angels who come to proclaim Jesus’ birth. We see these magi from the east being overjoyed when they see this star that leads them to Jesus.
What do we celebrate at Christmas? The birth of Jesus. His being the Messiah. Connection to God. The joy God extends to us even in our hardest moments.
How can you participate in the joy of Christmas this year?
Take It Deeper Questions
Read Luke 2:8-14
What has brought you great joy in the past?
What would bring you great joy in 2021?
How would you have responded if you were the shepherds in this narrative?
What is the message of vs. 10?
What does it look like to live in response to the “good news?” What is it to live in that joy?
Bible Reading Plan