12-11-16 TRUE JOY
December 11, 2016
This morning we lit the candle of JOY, as we celebrate the 3rd Sunday of Advent. In just 2 short weeks we will be celebrating Christmas, a joyous occasion for almost everyone. But it brings joy to different people for different reasons. During the Children's Message I tried to point out to the children that what makes non-Christians happy and what makes true Christians happy are not the same thing. This becomes all the more evident at Christmastime.
Which category do you fall into? Are you more excited about what you might possibly receive for Christmas, or are you more excited about making someone else happy with a special gift? And even if it is the latter, are you giving that gift in hopes of getting something in return? And which are you more concerned with as the festivities approach - having a better dress or car - or whatever it might be - than that certain relative or friend, or making sure your heart towards those who you might not really wish to socialize with is forgiving and reflects the love of our Savior towards them? Now please don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with exchanging gifts. The Magi brought gifts to Jesus and hence we have the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas. And there is nothing wrong with buying a new dress or going to a Christmas party. But what I am getting at is the question, 'what brings you joy at Christmas'? If it is getting presents, outdoing others, or having a few too many at the office Christmas party, then your heart is not in the right place. And I am not saying we shouldn't be happy. God wants us to be happy! But there is happiness that is superficial, temporary, fleeting; and ultimately brings nothing but pain and despair. And there is happiness that is true, lasting, and eternal. So often we seek out the former; pre-occupying ourselves with that one thing just beyond our grasp that we think will finally make us happy. What is it? A certain job, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a new house or car, graduating from school, a financial blessing? We think if we just had that, then we would be happy.
In my late twenties and early thirties, I bred and showed Collies. I started out with a sable female I fell in love with that looked just like Lassie. I bought her from a breeder as a pet, but had to sign a contract that I would breed her once and give the breeder back one puppy of her choosing. I had never raised a litter of puppies before and thought it sounded like something I would enjoy. So a few months later, I bred Maggie and she had a lovely litter. And I was hooked. I kept one of the puppies, and started showing her at dog shows, and bred her when she was old enough. Witnessing birth, the joy of raising puppies, and blessing other families with a wonderful purebred Collie, brought me happiness. But it didn't end there. As I studied Collies, and genetics, I discovered not only that there were white Collies with coloring only on their heads, but learned the genetics involved in breeding them. I also discovered that the last time there was a pure white Collie that wasn't the result of doubling up on the merle gene (which causes blindness and deafness), but was the result of less and less head color on the those with two recessive white-factor genes was in the 1920's, I set out on a goal to re-create a true pure white Collie. And so my love for animals took a wrong turn. I became obsessed with achieving my goal, and my beloved Collies became the means to an end, instead of my cherished companions. To make a long story short, after streamlining my kennel, purchasing some new Collies, and breeding a few generations, I bred my best white male Collie with the least head color, to his own mother, and in the resulting litter, I had one puppy that was pure white. After ten years I had achieved my goal. But the Lord was not happy with what I had done, or what I had become. And two days later that puppy died. Very soon thereafter I sold my dogs and gave up breeding. Moral of the story? So often we set our hearts on things that are not the Lord's will. They will not truly make us happy, and often end up causing nothing but grief and heartache in the end. I still love animals, but not as a means to an end. I love them for their own sake, as Jesus loves them.
So what are the things that DO give true joy? There is a very simple equation that will answer that question: X = joy for God. Will it make God happy? If it would make God happy, then if you are a true child of God, it will make you happy. If you are a true Christian (have repented of your sins, and placed your faith in Jesus alone for your salvation), then you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. Ephesians 4:30 says we should not "grieve the Holy Spirit of God", or as the NLT version says, "do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit". When we pursue things that do not make God happy, the Holy Spirit within us is grieved. And when the Holy Spirit within us is unhappy, how can we truly be happy? But when we do things that make God happy, we not only make God happy, but we ourselves are truly blessed with a joy that will last throughout eternity.
So what makes God happy? In Matthew 25:35-36 Jesus says, "I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me. And then Jesus explained how we can do that for Him in verse 40. He said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me." Helping those in need makes God happy. Spend less on those who already have an abundance, and instead give to those who have little or nothing. You will give God joy, and you will discover true joy yourself this Christmas.
In our Gospel reading (Luke 15:1-7), we heard that "there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents". Sharing the good news of the Gospel with someone who does not yet know Jesus makes God happy. And if you are one of those who has never really given your heart to Jesus, doing so would make God, and the angels in heaven, incredibly happy! And then like the angels on that first Christmas morning, you can say with joy in your heart, not that Santa has come, or that this year's decorations were truly the bomb, or that last night's feast was the best yet, but "Glory to God in the highest!", because you believe the "good news of great joy" that is for all the people, that a Savior was born to us - Christ the Lord! Amen.
Today the children learned that what makes a non-Christian happy, and what makes a Christian happy are different (e.g. receiving versus giving, getting glory vs. giving glory to God, etc.).