A Joy for All People

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Any of you ever remember a Christmas where there was that ONE gift you were really praying and pleading for? I mean your life was going to be complete if you got it. As a kid, the gift that I wanted more than any other was a University of Tennessee winter coat. I thought it was the coolest designed coat, and if I got it, I was gonna be reppen’ and stylin’ for all my friends and family. Now, I have three other siblings, and my family of six was a single income household. Money was tight. So my parents opted not to wrap Christmas presents to be able to spend the money on an extra gift of two instead of wrapping paper. As a kid, I fully endorsed it. An extra gift, ummm yeah?! Now some of you are in shock at this tradition. Some of you are like, as for me and my household, we will wrap gifts. I totally respect that. Bethany’s family was like that, and as a mature adult I can appreciate that approach. But as a kid, we didn’t. And it opened up a world of possibilities. So, I devised a battle plan that Christmas Eve. I would patiently wait for Mom and Dad to lay out our gifts late at night, as was our tradition, wait for them to go to sleep, and then I would sneak past their bedroom at the edge of the stairs in the middle of the night, tiptoe downstairs, confirm the coat was down there, bask in the glow of the greatest gift I would receive, savor the moment, tiptoe back upstairs and go back to sleep. If it wasn’t there, I was going to be really, really disappointed. If I was caught en route, I was going to be really, really dead. This was a high stakes gamble. First attempt, I had to abort. I was too noisy—heard too much stirring from my parent’s room. Waited a couple more hours. Felt like Mission Impossible scenario getting down those stairs without waking anybody up—BUT I pulled it off. I got down there, and laid eyes on that amazing coat. Instant happiness. In that moment, I felt loved, understood by my parents, I was so happy.

1. God Sees Us and Invites Us into His Story (Luke 2:8-11)

As we look at the Christmas story today, we see the happiness of the shepherds, but we also see something greater they received.

The Story begins with God. God approached the shepherds. Shepherds were lowly members of society. It would’ve been an easy assumption to make that nobody really saw shepherds. No one really cared about them. Society didn’t deem them important. The song “Waving through Window,” by Owl City was written for the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. Here are the lyrics: 

On the outside, always looking in Will I ever be more than I’ve always been? ‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass I’m waving through a window I try to speak, but nobody can hear, So I wait around for an answer to appear, While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass, I’m waving through a window, oh
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?, When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around, Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound? Did I even make a sound? Did I even make a sound? It’s like I never made a sound. Will I ever make a sound?

It’s hard for me to think of lyrics that better captures the emptiness, loneliness, and search for purpose and meaning of so many in this generation. Will my life ever make a sound? Will my life have meaning? Will I make a difference in this world? Does anyone see me?

God answers these questions thru the story of the shepherds. He does see us. He loves us and invites us into the greatest story ever written. God saw them; God invited them in. God sees you. God invites you and me into His story for the world.

2. God’s Story is a Mind-Blowing Love Saga that Demands a Response (Luke 2:8-15)

Here’s a reality. The angel could have come to announce God’s judgment on mankind. We deserve to be destroyed for our rebellion against Him. There were moments before when God sent judgment and punishment for evil.

In Jesus’ final hours before the cross, He reminded the disciples of His mission to fulfill prophecy of Isaiah and accomplish the Father’s plan. Peter wanted to fight to protect Jesus. But Jesus wanted to fight Peter, and you and me from our sin. And Jesus fought and defeated death to protect us all from eternal punishment and separation from God. Matthew 26: 53-54

 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

Jesus could have deployed thousands of angels and wiped out His enemies. He could have brought death. We deserve death. But He didn’t do that. He came to earth in peace to bring life, and He went to the cross for us at peace with the Father’s plan. Why? To bring you and me new life. The innocent for the guilty.

God’s glory is overwhelming. Moses couldn’t look away from the burning bush. The shepherds couldn’t wrap their minds around what they’d seen. The angels help us understand that we were designed to look up to God. He is our Deliverer. When we look up, we can receive the Gift He’s given us. His Son.

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

Let us see this “thing” that has happened. They didn’t even know what to call it. Completely blew their minds. But they had a choice to make. Would they believe what the angel had announced to them? They could’ve thought, “Well, that was weird. We could check it out. But what about the sheep? Who’s gonna care for the flock?” We can always come up with excuses to not obey God.

But perhaps they remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near…
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The shepherds had a choice to make. You and I have a choice to make. Will we believe God’s Word? Belief and behavior go together. Faith and action work in tandem. If we believe and surrender to God, then we will act on that belief.

The shepherds believed, and they acted. When they saw the newborn King—they realized God keeps His promises. They rejoiced and then they made the works of God known (verse 17). That’s what you and I are called to do through the Great Commission. We’re to make known the saving work God has done in our lives known to the world. Be followers of Jesus who make followers of Jesus.

3. Will We Enter His Story and Receive Joy by Worshiping the King? (Luke 2:15-20)

Tim Keller has discussed the difference between surface idols and source idols. What he means is that a lot of times the sins we struggle with whether it’s relationship strife, lust, greed—they are surface idols. But there’s something going on deeper in our hearts. He lists four source or root idols that we battle with in our hearts, and these are what we must address. Here’s the thing about idols: they are often good things that we turn into ultimate things. Then they rob us of our joy or they prevent us from ever experiencing joy.

The first source idol is Power. It’s this desire forinfluence or recognition. I want to win in life and be successful. Failure isn’t an option. Here’s an example of how it might manifest itself in your life. I really don’t care to serve on that ministry team, because I don’t see it leading to me being recognized. I don’t see a path to gaining influence by helping Agape Kids, because nobody will ever really see my gifts, talents, and abilities. That’s a source idol of power. It’s possible to worship the power idol by serving in ministry too. We can fall prey to achievement idolatry by believing our efforts, gifts, abilities are responsible for advancing the Kingdom. It’s God’s power working thru us that makes a difference. Christianity exposes our idols and reveals to us that we’re weaker than we think we are. But our sinful instincts are to project power and strength.  

Here’s the next one. Control. Everything needs to go according to my plan. Here’s what it might look like in your life: “I’m not going to give maximum effort to my work, unit, organization, or team because I’m not in control. But I should be. I ought to be in control.” So you hold out. Or you may even try to sabotage others to gain control. That’s an idol.  

Comfort. The end all be all is pleasure. We live in a first world country here in Korea. Comfort is baked in. I read that Korea is the 4th best place to live in around the world during the pandemic. We want to be comfortable. Alarm clock rings on a Sunday AM, but it’s cold outside, and comfort is king—so we can worship God next Sunday and we choose comfort. Or someone presents an opportunity to serve in a ministry area. You know there’s a need there, but that would move you out of your “comfort zone,” so you pass. You won’t risk anything that would threaten your comfort. So you miss out on amazing adventures of growth and discovery where God would change you and make you into your truest self—what He designed you to be. You were never meant to live a life of self-focused, self-seeking pleasure. God made us to serve. Jesus said, “It’s more blessed to give then to receive.” So when you make that decision to get out of bed and give worship God, when you serve on a ministry team, God gives His power and strength and begins uprooting that idol in your life.

The last source idol is Approval. You long for acceptance or to be desired. You put your hope in people liking you. Maybe you grew up not receiving love or approval from a family member. So it becomes the driving force of your life. You want to please people. But inevitably you disappoint people, because we’re human and we fail and others fail us. Full disclosure: I’ve struggled with all four of these idols. I have sought the approval of people I don’t even like and been frustrated when I didn’t receive it. I enslaved myself, because I made it my focus and mission to win their approval. Other times, I earned the approval of someone, but then I discovered, they weren’t really the kind of person I thought they were. It’s self-defeating and a dead end. We will not find joy seeking the approval of man. Here’s another way to determine if the approval idol is supreme in your life. Have you refused to proclaim the Gospel to someone, because you feared they might disapprove of you?

How do we find joy? How do we avoid falling into the trap of worshiping counterfeit gods? By pursuing and worshiping the King, just like the shepherds. We pursue him in thru the daily rhythms of life thru community with other believers (missional communities), we pursue him thru obediently submitting to daily Bible reading, prayer, fasting, and the spiritual disciplines. We pursue the King by coming into His presence thru corporate worship–what we’re doing right now.  

When we pursue God, we glorify Him. We honor Him, we draw attention to Him. We praise Him. We stop living for ourselves and start living on mission. We become our true selves—what God always intended us to be. Our desires change.

Here’s the remarkable thing about obedience. When we obey God to proclaim the Gospel, for example, we slay the power idol. Salvation is from the Lord not from man. We aren’t in control when we proclaim the Gospel. We trust that God is sovereign and in control. Proclaiming the Gospel moves us out of our comfort zone. It can be uncomfortable. People might disapprove of us when we share the Gospel. Yet, we are obeying the commands of King Jesus by proclaiming the Gospel.

We ought to be like Mary—pondering and treasuring the work of God in our lives and around us in the lives of others. And we ought to be like the shepherds rejoicing at what God is doing and allows us to hear and see. We see His work in our lives and those around us.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8

Will we obey God and tell others about the mind-blowing and wonderful work of God? It’s the hope of the world. We were made to know God and make Him known.

I begin speaking to you this morning about the happiness I felt as a kid at Christmas. Some days, you’re just marching into the office, upbeat, and happy and then boom—you get a phone call or an email. Somebody delivers some bad news. Someone does something, and your day is turned upside down, and the happiness vanishes. So I don’t want just happiness for you. Happiness is fleeting. I want something way better for you. I want you to experience and have joy.

If you read your Bible, and you should, we see over and over again how God is the only One who brings joy to His people. David, who literally runs for his life as a fugitive, has his family ripped apart says in Psalm 28, “My heart is filled with joy, I burst out in songs.” Nehemiah reminds the people returning from exile from a foreign land, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” You see joy gives us the staying power to weather whatever storms of life we face. A few weeks ago, we saw how Paul and Silas are beaten, battered, skin ripped off their backs, imprisoned, shackled, and yet they’re singing and praising God. What kind of people do this? Ones who have joy. Interesting that Luke writes in Acts the prisoners were listening—not the other prisoners were listening. Because Paul and Silas have joy, they aren’t captives. They have freedom. Joy is a gift that comes from being in the presence of Jesus. If there’s anything I want to leave you with today it’s this: God sees you, and despite all your struggles and failures, He loves you, and He invites you into His presence to give you joy.

Closing questions:

What is stopping you from going to Bethlehem to worship the King? What idol(s) do you need to abandon to pursue the King? Whatever it is, whether it’s power, control, comfort, or approval—it’s robbing you of the joy and freedom that only the King of Kings can give you. Will you lay it down and fix your eyes on Jesus? Come, let us worship and adore Him.

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