Joy to the World

On Sunday, we looked at the topic of JOY, based on Psalm 98 and the first two chapters of Luke and linked to the carol ‘Joy to the world’.

Joy is the serious business of heaven.

C. S. Lewis, Prayer: Letters to Malcolm, ch. 17

What is joy?

Joy can be a difficult word to define and even more difficult to live and understand. It is easy to equate it with happiness, but this seems less than adequate.

Psychologists have suggested that a way in to understanding joy might be to begin with its opposite. They go on to suggest that the opposite of joy is fear, whereas the opposite of happiness is sadness or unhappiness.

D Willard wrote that joy is robust (even including outright hilarity!) and that we can experience the joy of being in God’s kingdom even in the midst of suffering and loss.

On Sunday Rob highlighted that joy is a deep underlying constant sense that all will be well.

Allowing joy into our lives

Psalm 98

In reflecting on joy this week

  • perhaps begin with gratitude that:
    • God meets us where we are and does the heavy lifting of rescuing us (vv1&2)
    • God loves us and this love has a global impact (v8)
    • God puts things right (v9)
  • and move to a reflection on the outworking of joy for these people in praise
  • and listen to or sing Joy to the World for yourself…..

Luke 1:5-2:20

Here we can see three interactions with angels, three times when God connected with people – Zechariah, Mary and the shepherds.

All three interactions initially produced fear of some type, but Luke in his account of each interaction moves on from their fear with the word ‘but’ – a word suggesting that something contrary or different was going to happen. Fear was to be set aside and replaced with its opposite – joy.

Some things to reflect on from these interactions:

  1. There was another story going on alongside the day to day lives of these people – Zechariah doing his work as priest, Mary pledged to be married and looking forward to that and the shepherds looking after their sheep in the hills outside Bethlehem.
    • For Zechariah: His prayer has been heard, even though for years Zechariah and Elizabeth may have wondered about that. Yet, they kept on praying.
    • For Mary: God would be with her and as well as that, he would provide some human support through Elizabeth.
    • For the shepherds: there was a sign for them to confirm all that was going on.

Perhaps joy might be inspired by some reflection on the fact that God is working out his big story and invites us to be part of that.

2. The responses to the angels:

  • Zechariah and Mary with a question: ‘How…..’ (Luke 1; 18 & 34)
  • and the shepherds with a plan to explore further: ‘Let’s go and see….’ (Luke 2:15).

Have you a question for or exploration to make with Jesus? Perhaps, a slow re-reading of these accounts might help with that…..

3. And the end of their interactions was joy:

  • For Zechariah in his song (1:67-69)
  • For Mary in her song (1:46-55)
  • For the shepherds on their return to the hills (2:20)

Perhaps re-reading these two songs as your songs, or imaging the conversations among the shepherds as they returned home might inspire your joy.

And finally, why not listen to ‘Joy to the world’ on and off through this week….?

Joy to the world, the Lord has come

Let earth receive her king

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing

And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns

Let men their songs employ

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy

No more let sins and sorrows grow

Nor thorns infest the ground

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found

Far as, far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness

And wonders of His love, and wonders of His love

And wonders, wonders of His love

God With Us Through Abandonment – Rob Gamble 14/11/21

When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. 
But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.

A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis seems to be asking, where is God in the darker moments of life? When life is well and all is good we can almost take His presence for granted but when life is tough, why does it feel like we are often met with silence?

Q. Have you ever felt like this? What things might have you thought or felt about God at this time?
Does God abandon us in the dark moments of life?

In exploring Psalm 23 we’re reminded that…

  1. God is with us in the darkness
  2. God guides us through the darkness 
  3. God brings us out of the darkness

1 – God is with us in the darkness.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” Psalm 23:4
The Psalm suggests to us in the beginning (v1-3) that God is with us in the best moments of life, in the green pastures, quiet waters and refreshed soul. Then, as it continues, it puts across the idea that even in the dark valley God is still with us.

In being WITH US, he SEES and UNDERSTANDS… an example of this can be seen in John 11. (Read this chapter for yourself, is there anything you find interesting about the passage in terms of God being WITH US?)
Something of note is Jesus’ reaction to Mary as she cries… even though He will raise Lazarus from the dead, His reaction isn’t to belittle or push her pain to the side: rather He weeps with her… He enters into her pain and suffering, He is with her.

This is something about God that we can hold on to and it’s something we can LEAN on… trusting that He is true to His word and that He is WITH US IN the darkness..

2 – God guides us through the darkness

“your rod and your staff,they comfort me” Psalm 23:4
The Psalm also gives us a picture of God’s guidance and support THROUGH the darkness.
The ROD symbolises God’s strength and power. It tells us of His protection and willingness to step into danger for us. The STAFF symbolises guidance. It gives us a picture of being draw close and guided through trouble.
With both of these in mind then, it encourages us to know that the shepherd doesn’t run off to save Himself; rather that He is there with us and for us in the darkness.
This then can provide us with 2 questions to consider, Am I LISTENING? What am I LEARNING

Q. As you experience the dark valley in your own life how might you know God’s guidance through it? How might you hear Him and learn from Him during this time?

3 – God brings us out of the darkness

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow meal the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23:5-6
Finally the Psalm says to us that God BRINGS US OUT of the darkness.
Ultimately the darkness doesn’t win, but there is a feast, a table, a cup that overflows and the experience of God’s presence. 

Q. How might it feel for you to know this, to know that whatever you are going through isn’t the end and that there will be a time when all wrongs are put right? How might these verses speak into your life right now?

Something we can do in response to this is to LOOK – to look in hope to God, knowing that He is good, that He is with us, that He loves us, that He defeats the darkness in our lives, He defeats the darkness that we experience around us and He will make all things new.

Psalm 23 can help to remind us that

God doesn’t abandon us in the darkness;

rather He is WITH US in the darkness, 

GUIDES US THROUGH the darkness

and He BRINGS US OUT of the darkness. 

Rebecca McLaughlin highlights that we can see this in Jesus … 

Perhaps you’ve noticed this is your own life. We can laugh with anyone. But we tend to cry only with those closest to us; and the bond is strongest when their suffering matches ours, because we know they really understand. In Jesus, we find the one person who knows all our heartache and our pain. Jesus was abandoned by his closet friends, beaten by strangers, stripped, abused, and hung on a cross to die. If you’ve ever been let down, teased or bullied or felt alone or got terribly sick, Jesus knows how you feel. There is no wound of ours he cannot touch. He knows the end of the story when he will make a whole new better world.

10 questions every teen should ask – Rebecca McLaughlin

O God,

I accept you as my shepherd:

help me to trust your provisions and obey your leading.

I believe you are my host:

help me to relax in your protection and recognise the signs of your presence.

In Jesus Christ, AMEN

Praying the Psalms – Eugene Peterson