Christmas Eve, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
God is Joyful!
Part 9 of The God I Wish You Knew
Introduction and offering:
From the mouth of babes: the good news is that God is born and you should come see Him! That’s kind of what the angels said when they announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds.
Luke 2:8–11 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Jesus’ birth was “good news of great joy for all the people.” God has come to earth as one of us! It’s good news of great joy, because God is joyful. Kids get this.
ILL: Tony Campolo writes,
I took my son to Disneyland when he was just a little guy. As we were leaving, he said, “I want another ride on Space Mountain.”
I said “Sorry. I’m out of money, and I’m out of time.”
He said, “Jesus wants me to go.”
I said, “I’m not reading you.”
He said, “When you were in church, you said whatever we feel Jesus feels it. When we cry, he cries. You said Jesus feels every emotion we have.”
I said, “That’s right.”
He said, “Well then when I’m laughing on Space Mountain, he’s having a good time too. I think Jesus would enjoy it if I had another ride on Space Mountain.”
Friends, that’s pretty good theology! I want to convince you that God is the most joyful person in the universe! The God I wish you knew is joyful! And joy is at the very center of the Christmas story.
The Big Idea: God is the most joyful being in the universe! And God wants to fill you with His joy!
I am indebted to John Ortburg for several of the ideas that I’m going to share with you today, including this opening story. John says:
ILL: Some time ago I was giving a bath to our kids. We have three children, and we have this custom of bathing them all together. It’s kind of a time-saving thing. We know the day will come when they’ll be too old and we can’t do that anymore—when they’re in high school or so. But for now, it’s efficient.
So I was bathing them. Johnny was still in the tub and Laura, our oldest, was on drip dry, and I was trying to get Mallory, our middle kid, dried off. She was out of the tub but not into getting dry. She was doing what has come to be known as the “Dee-Da-Day” dance. This consists of Mallory running around and around in circles, chanting to herself, “Dee-Da-Day, Dee-Da-Day, Dee-Da-Day.”
It’s a relatively simple dance. We think Mallory invented it. It’s a dance of great joy because she is a joyful person, and when she’s too happy and she just can’t hold it inside anymore, she has to dance to release joy. And so she was doing it, “Dee-Da-Day.”
I wanted to get her dry so I could get on with getting Johnny dried, so I said, “Mallory, hurry.” So she just started running around faster in circles—”Dee-Da-Day, Dee-Da-Day.” I repeated myself. I said, “Mallory, come here. Hurry.”
She looked at me and she said, “Why?” I had no answer. I mean, I had nothing I had to do, no place I had to go. I had no meetings, nothing else on the list.
It’s just that I had become so addicted to hurrying, so trapped by this business of going from one task to the next to the next, that here was life, here was joy right in front of me, here was an invitation to the dance, and I was missing it. So I got up, and Mallory and I did the “Dee-Da-Day” dance together right there in the bathroom. She said I was pretty good at it for an old guy.
I was reflecting on this later on, and I came to a conclusion about my life—that I generally tend to divide my life up into two categories, “living” and “waiting to live.”
Most of my life falls under the category of “waiting to live,” things that I just have to get through so I can get on with life: driving to some place, standing in line somewhere, trying to get through a meeting or get done with a task, worrying about something bad that might happen or being angry over something bad that did happen. Drying the kids was just something that I was trying to get through.
But with Mallory, life is not that way. See, Mallory just lives, so when she’s taking a bath, it’s a “Dee-Da-Day” moment; and when it’s time to get out of the tub and get dried, that’s another “Dee-Da-Day” moment; and when she’s dry, she’ll move on to another “Dee-Da-Day” moment. Life for her is just a series of “Dee-Da-Day” moments.
She’s teaching me about joy, and joy lives in the heart of God. Joy is the gift to people who live at the heart of God.
I miss a lot of living because I’m waiting to live. Can anyone relate to this? I’m just getting through things, rather than having “Dee-Da-Day” moments.
ILL: Several years ago, I had left our van lights on and drained the battery. It was my day off, and the van wouldn’t start. My battery charger had died a couple months before, so that was no help. I tried jumping it, but it wouldn’t start. I was getting ready to go buy a new battery charger, and maybe a new battery, when Noel asked me what I was doing. I glumly told him the story, and then said, “This is my life.” He smiled and said, “Enjoy it!” Thanks a lot Noel! “Enjoy every moment. Choose to make it fun!” Make it a “Dee-Da-Day” moment!
Why can we make every moment a “Dee-Da-Day” moment? Because God is a “Dee-Da-Day” God! God is joyful.
God has an infinite capacity for joy. I believe that God is the most joyful being in the universe. And I believe that God wants to fill you with His joy.
1. God is joyful.
God is joyful. How do we know this? It’s all over in the Bible! Cover to cover, the Bible talks about God’s joy.
Now some people think that the God of the Old Testament is cranky and the God of the New Testament is nice—that God got converted between the testaments. But even in the Old Testament we see that God is joyful.
Proverbs 8 represents God rejoicing during creation.
Proverbs 8:30–32 Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, 31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.
God’s wisdom is personified—some believe this is a reference to Jesus—and at creation, God is rejoicing in what He has made, especially us. At the very beginning, God is joyful.
All through the Old Testament, God commands His people to rejoice. It’s why He ordained all those feast days and holy days. You know, our word “holiday” is just a shortened form of “holy day”. Holidays are holy days; that’s what they were—special days of celebration, days of rejoicing because of God’s goodness. Holidays were God’s idea because God is joyful. Or how about this verse:
Isaiah 62:5 “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”
What is God doing? God is rejoicing. God is rejoicing…over you! Can you imagine that?
ILL: How many of you attended a wedding this past year? Can you remember the look on the groom’s face as his bride walked up the aisle? How would you describe that look? Love, pride, wonder, delight, joy. I’ve never seen horror! Or disgust! It’s pure joy and delight!
Imagine God looking at you that way. As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so God rejoices over you.
Can you imagine God just getting a kick out of you? Looking at you and His heart fills with joy, and God gets up and does a “Dee-Da-Day” dance?
Zephaniah 3:17 “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
There it is again! God rejoicing over you—with singing!
ILL: When my kids were little, one of them who was particularly exuberant would just burst out in song around us. “I love my mom. I love my dad. They’re the greatest, and I love them! Whoa yeah!” He just rejoiced over us with singing. It’s a joy that just bubbles up and overflows.
That’s how God feels about you! God looks at you and bursts out in song!
You will not understand God until you understand this about him: God is the most joyful being in all the universe. Yes, God also knows sorrow, but the sorrow of God and the anger of God are his temporary response to a fallen world.
Psalm 30:5 “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
God’s anger lasts for a moment, weeping lasts for a night; but God’s joy is forever, all the “Dee-Da-Day.” The sorrow of God and the anger of God are his temporary response to a fallen world, and they will be banished forever on that day when the world is finally set right. But joy is God’s basic character. God is the most joyful being in all the universe.
God is joyful. And the main reason I know that is Jesus. The God I wish you knew is the God that Jesus revealed. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” This is one of the reasons God took on human flesh and became one of us: so that we could see Him as He is. In Jesus, the invisible God became visible. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus, and when you do, you’ll see that God is joyful.
Children flocked to Jesus—He was a kid-magnet, so much so that it irritated His disciples and they shooed them away. Now I’ve never known a sourpuss who was a kid-magnet. Kids are attracted to joy, so I’ve got to believe that Jesus was joyful.
Jesus loved parties. He did His first miracle at a wedding party, turning water into wine, keeping the party going! He hung out with sinners so much that religious people were a little put off by it; they accused him of being “a glutton and a drunkard,” which He wasn’t. They also accused Him of being “the friend of sinners,” which He was.
Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is a party, that heaven is full of joy. For example, look at Luke 15. This is one of those places where the religious leaders were upset with Jesus because He enjoyed hanging out with sinners. Jesus answered them with three stories, about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. When the lost sheep was found, the shepherd joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.
Luke 15:6-7 Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
And when the lost coin was found, the woman called her friends and neighbors together and said,
Luke 15:9-10 ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And when the lost son made his way home, the father welcomed him with open arms and said,
Luke 15:22-24 ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
What’s the common theme? When the lost are found, God rejoices! There is joy in heaven! If you are far from God, there is party in heaven with your name on it waiting to happen! God rejoices! And Jesus made it clear that it’s not just faint smile—“isn’t that nice”—it’s a full-blown party, a celebration. Let’s kill the fattened calf, bring out the frozen cheesecake, and par-tee! God gets down!
C. S. Lewis put it like this: “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” I like that! God is joyful.
But the clincher for me comes from the mouth of Jesus Himself.
John 15:11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Jesus had just told his followers that they should stay close to Him. He used the illustration of a tree and branches.
John 15:4-5 “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Here is the secret for living a fruitful life: stay close to Jesus, stay attached to Jesus. Then Jesus tells them the reason He told them this: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” He not only wants us to be fruitful; He wants us to be completely joyful. And not just any joy, but His joy. “I will give you my joy.”
Jesus must have been a joyful person to say this. Sadly, most people don’t think of Him that way. Many people imagine Him to be very serious, maybe even a little uptight. Others imagine Him to be sorrowful, like the old hymn says, “Man of sorrows.” Most of the religious movies portray Him as somber, unsmiling, kind of spacey. Imagine that kind of person saying these words: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” I think the disciples would have fled the scene; instead they followed Jesus. Why? Jesus must have been incredibly joyful.
John 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”
John 17 is Jesus’ prayer for us before He died. Jesus prayed for you so that you would have the full measure of His joy. God is the most joyful being in the universe, and He wants you to experience the full measure of His joy!
2. God wants to fill you with His joy.
Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Jesus wants to fill you with His joy. That is His plan for you. This God who is joyful wants you to be joyful too.
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
When the Spirit of God fills you, He produces certain things in your life. What He produces, this fruit, is listed here: love, joy, and so on. When you are filled with God, you will be filled with joy.
Teilhard de Chardin, (tā-yär` de shär-dăn`) the Catholic theologian, said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” When you are filled with God, you will be filled with joy.
Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
When you are filled with God, you will be filled with joy.
Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord. What does that mean? It means that you can find joy in your relationship with God regardless of your circumstances. If you are connected, like a branch to the tree, to this joyful God, you can have His joy running through you no matter what you’re going through. Always. Rejoice in the Lord always.
Psalm 118:24 This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
When are you going to rejoice? Today. This is the day. The psalmist doesn’t say, “Tomorrow is God’s day” or “Yesterday was God’s day.” He says, “It’s today.” He says that, I think, because we live in a world with this illusion that says, “I’ll be happy someday when the conditions in my life change.”
So people are in school, and they think, “I’ll be happy someday when I get out of school.”
People are single, and they think, “I’ll be happy someday when I get married.”
People get married, and they think, “I’ll be happy someday when we get kids in the house.”
People get kids in the house, and they think, “I’ll be happy someday when we get the kids out of the house.”
But today is the day to rejoice—rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice that you have a relationship with this joyful God.
The test of authentic joy is that it is always compatible with pain because joy in this world will always be joy in spite of something. We live in a broken world, filled with pain and sorrow. Every person in this room has some reason not to rejoice. Three months ago we lost Laina’s dad, Pastor Noel, who was my father, my friend, my pastor, my mentor. He lived with us the last 24 years. Two weeks ago, we lost our beloved dog, Lucy. It was sorrow upon sorrow. It’s been hard. Yet in our pain, we found joy in the Lord and hope. Joy in this world will always be in spite of something. The truth is if you don’t rejoice today, you will not rejoice at all. If you wait until conditions are perfect, you’ll wait until you die. If you’re going to rejoice, it must be in this day, for “This is the day that the Lord has made.” This is your “Dee-Da-Day” if you’re living it in the Lord.
C. S. Lewis entitled his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. I think that describes my experience. The first time I heard the gospel, I was surprised by joy: surprised by the joy of the speaker, surprised that God promised this joyful life. I told God, “I don’t know much about You; all I know is that I want what that guy has. I want that joy.” You may feel that way tonight. If you want to say “yes” to Jesus, “yes” to this joyful God, “yes” to a new life of joy, here’s what I’d like you to do. Pull out your phone, and text the word “first” to this number: 509-412-3658. You will receive a reply asking for your name and number. Fill that out and we will be in touch with you to give you simple next steps to follow Jesus. Or maybe you’ve already made that first decision to follow Jesus, and you been here for awhile and are wondering what to do next, or how to get more connected here. Text the word “next” to that same number, 509-412-3658. Fill out the form and we’ll be in touch. If you’re using the Life Center app to take sermon notes, at the bottom of the notes you’ll find a “first steps” option and a “next steps” option. These ask for the same information as the text. Fill it in and we’ll be touch. Don’t worry—we won’t bombard you with junk texts, or sell your number. A live person will call you and help you with clear next steps. (Leave this number and the words up while I tell this story.)
I want to finish with a story from Robert Fulgum. It’s about a wedding that he officiated at, and it’s a kind of a parable that illustrates that joy in this world is always in spite of something.
ILL: Usually a polite, reasonable, intelligent, and sane being, the Mother was mentally unhinged by the announcement of her daughter’s betrothal. I don’t mean she was unhappy as often is the case; to the contrary, she was overcome with joy and just about succeeded in overcoming everybody else with her joy before the dust settled. Nobody knew it, but this lady had been waiting with a script for a production that would have met with Steven Spielberg’s approval—a royal wedding fit for a princess bride.
The father of the bride began to pray for an elopement. His prayers were not to be answered. She had seven months to work, and no detail was left to chance or human error. Everything that could be engraved was engraved. There were teas and showers and dinners.
The bride and groom I met with only three times. The mother of the bride called me weekly and was in my office as often as the cleaning lady. An 18-piece brass and wind ensemble was engaged. The bride’s desires for home furnishings were registered in stores from New York to Atlanta.
Not only were the bridesmaids outfits made to order, but the tuxedos for the groom and his men were bought—not rented, mind you, bought. And if all that wasn’t enough, the engagement ring was returned to the jeweler for a larger stone, quietly subsidized by the mother of the bride. When I say the lady came unhinged, I mean unhinged.
The juggernaut of faith rolled down the road, and the final hour came. Guests in formal attire packed in the church. In the choir loft the orchestra gushed great music. And the mighty mother of the bride coasted down the aisle with the grandeur of an opera diva at a premiere performance.
Never did the mother of the bride take her seat with more satisfaction. She had done it! She glowed, beamed, smiled and sighed. The music softened, and nine—count ’em, nine—chiffon-draped bridesmaids lock-stepped down the long aisle while the befrocked groom and his men marched stolidly into place.
And finally—oh, so finally—the ‘Wedding March’ thundered from the orchestra, ‘Here Comes the Bride,’ preceded by four enthusiastic mini-princesses chucking flower petals and two dwarfish ring bearers, one for each ring. The congregation rose and turned in anticipation. Ah, the bride! She had been dressed for hours if not days. No adrenaline was left in her body.
Left alone with her father in the reception hall of the church while the march of the maidens went on and on, she walked along the tables laden with gourmet goodies and absent-mindedly sampled the little pink and yellow and green mints. Then she picked through the silver bowls of mixed nuts and ate the pecans, followed by a cheese ball, a deuce of olives, a handful of glazed almonds, a little sausage with a frilly toothpick stuck in it, a couple of shrimps blanketed in bacon, and a cracker piled with liver pate. To wash this down, a glass of pink champagne. Her father gave it to her to calm her nerves.
What you noticed as the bride stood in the doorway was not her dress but her face—white—for what was coming down the aisle was a living grenade with the pin pulled out.
The bride threw up just as she walked by her mother; and by ‘threw up’ I don’t mean a polite, little lady-like ‘uurp’ into her handkerchief. She puked. There’s no nice word for it. I mean she hosed the front of the chancel, hitting two bridesmaids, the groom, a ring bearer, and me.
I am quite sure of the details. We have it all on videotape—three cameras worth. The mother of the bride had thought of everything.
Having disgorged her hors d’oeuvres, champagne and the last of her dignity, the bride went limp in her father’s arms while the groom sat down on the floor where he had been standing too stunned to function. And the mother of the bride fainted, slumping over in rag doll disarray.
We had a fire drill then and there at the front of the church that only the Marx Brothers could have topped. Groomsmen rushed heroically. Mini-princess flower girls squalled, bridesmaids sobbed and people with weak stomachs headed for the exits.
All the while unaware, the orchestra played on. The bride had not only come; she was gone into some other state of consciousness. Only two people were seen smiling. One was the mother of the groom, and the other was the father of the bride.
What did we do? Well, we went back to real life. Guests were invited to adjourn to the reception hall, though they did not eat or drink as much as they might have in different circumstances.
The bride was consoled, cleaned up and fitted out with a bridesmaid dress and hugged and kissed a lot by the revived groom. She’ll always love him for that. When he said ‘for better or for worse,’ he meant it.
The cast was reassembled where we left, and a single flute played a quiet air. The words were spoken, and the deed was done. Everybody cried as people are supposed to at weddings, mostly because the groom held the bride in his arms through the whole ceremony; and no groom ever kissed a bride more tenderly than he.
If one can hope for a wedding that’d be memorable, then theirs was a raging success. Nobody who was there will ever forget it. But that’s not the end of the story. The best part is still to come.
On the tenth anniversary of this disastrous affair, a party was held. Three TV sets were mustered, a feast was laid, and best friends invited. Remember there were three video cameras at the scene of the accident, so all three films were shown at once. The event was hilarious, especially with the running commentary and the stop action stuff that is a little gross when seen one frame at a time.
The part that got cheers and toasts was when the camera focused on the grin of the father of the bride as he contemplates his wife as she’s being revived. The reason I say this is the best part is not because of the party, but because of who organized it—of course, the infamous mother of the bride.
The mother of the bride is still at it, but she’s a lot looser these days. She not only forgave her husband and everybody else for their part in the debacle, she forgave herself. And nobody laughed harder at the film than she.
There’s a word for what she has: grace. That’s why the same grinning man has been married to her for 40 years and why her daughter loves her still. It is this absolute refusal to allow anything—and I mean anything—to stop the celebration.”
Now, why could they rejoice when everything went so horribly wrong? Because in spite of all the mess, the groom still got the bride. And after everything is said and done at a wedding, that’s all that really matters. Whatever else gets messed up, as long as the groom gets the bride, then it’s a “Dee-Da-Day.”
How is it possible for human beings to become joy-filled people in a pain-filled world? Look at the promise that comes almost at the very end of the Bible.
Revelation 19:7 “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory for the marriage of the lamb that is Christ. The marriage of the lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
Joy is possible, even in a desperately pain-filled world because at the end of the story, the groom gets the bride, and then will God dance with his people and then will joy reign.
Then the Bible says, “God himself will be with his people, and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”
And then will dawn that great “Dee-Da-Day” that will never end.