We are gathered together today one last time before Christmas day to celebrate the birth of Jesus-"Emmanuel"-which means God with us. The presence of God on earth. This is where we find the source of true joy in our lives.
The magi find Jesus: Matthew 2:1-22
verse 10 says, "When they saw the star they were overjoyed"
Another translation...the ESV which is a more literal, word for word translation of the ancient Greek says this: "When they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy."
This isn't just, "Hey that was great" kind of joy...or "Boy I really had fun." No this is, "YES...that's exactly what I was hoping for, " kind of joy. This is the fulfillment of your greatest hopes and dreams joy. When they saw that star shining down on a newborn child, they found the fulfillment of their hope and faith in God's promise
This is the kind of joy we are looking for...and exceeding joy...a joy that arises in all circumstances because we know in our hearts the true source of satisfaction, contentment, purpose, and fulfillment in our lives.
We've seen how these magi began with hope-they and many others-placed their hope in the promise of God that He would send a saviour. This star they saw was a physical sign of their hope.
They didn't just sit and gaze at that star and wonder or wish that God would come through for them, but they fully believed that God was fulfilling His promise and demonstrated their faith. The put their hope into action, stepped out in faith and followed that star to where they knew it was leading them.
When they arrived, they could not contain their joy because of what they found there. They found an outpouring of God's love in the presence of the baby Jesus. It's God's love that fulfills our hopes and dreams...and it is His love that fuels our faith.
Jesus was not just some annointed child. He wasn't just some person with a divine mark on him who would someday rise to great power. This was God made flesh, "Emmanuel"-God with us. His birth was an act of God to save all of mankind and restore the relationship God intended to have with us from the very beginning. Jesus' birth is God's gift of love to us. We need to know, down in the depths of our hearts just how significant God's love for us is. It has been his desire since the beginning of human history to be a part of our lives. He has offered Himself to us hoping that we would receive Him and return that love and devotion.
In the beginning of the Bible...the book of Genesis, we read that God was directly involved in the lives of Adam and Eve...He spoke to them and walked in the garden he made for them. He offered Himself to them as their loving and caring Creator. He created them in His own image...setting them apart as special from the rest of creation. He gave man a wonderful place to live filled with all kinds of good things to eat. He brought all the animals to him for companionship and finally created woman to be a suitable helper and companion. God poured out his creative power in love for man...but they turned away from him.
Later, when God came to Abraham, he offered himself again to this man and his descendents as a mighty LORD. One who would provide for and sustain his people. A mighty God who would go before them and make a name for them in the world. An all-powerful God who would set them apart as special and make other nations desire to know their God. He offered his might and strength, but again, man turned away from Him.
God knew and has shown us through these previous examples, that we needed His personal touch. He needed to set aside his great powers and become one of us.
Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Php 2:5-8 NIV)
It was truly humbling experience for the Son of God to put off his divine nature to be born as a helpless child.
Not only did Jesus set aside his glory as God for us, he lived as one of us-experiencing all the trials, hardships and temptations we do. Hebrews 2:16-18 says this: "For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:16-18 NIV)
God's knows everything, but He also knows it's not enough to have knowledge of things. To truly know something in a way that affects you, you need to experience it. Jesus knows what life is like. He knows the difficulties we face. He knows how hard it can be to place our lives completely into God's hands-He's been there. He was born into a family that was already rejected by others-mother pregnant out of wedlock-who could legally have been stoned to death. He was born into a race of people who were hated by the rulers of the day, and into a common family who had little to offer him. His earthly father died at some point-leaving Jesus as the eldest son to be responsible for his mother and siblings. He knows about the hardships and temptations of life. He knows about the everyday demands and ups and downs of life. Because of this we know He can relate to us when we turn to Him. He is an advocate, and high priest who understands. He also showed us the way to follow God, however. He showed us what life can be like when we truly depend upon God and follow His Spirit in every way. God has shown us His love be giving us His son to experience life as we know it, and show us the way back to Him.
This is where the joy we've been talking about comes from....knowing and responding to God's great love!
Let me share a few examples of how some of you describe that joy...<video testimonies>
Melissa "Knowing Jesus has made me into the person I am today. The person I've always wanted to be - but maybe I was afraid to be. Knowing Jesus gives me joy. I might not be where He wants me to be but every day I grow in my faith. The joy I have experienced in learning more and more about what Jesus did for us overwhelmes me "
Simply put, our joy is found when we know in the depths of our hearts that Jesus came for you.
It's not always easy to remember God's love on a daily basis. The distractions and responsibilities of life overtake us and we start to lose that joyful attitude. We need to realize however, that God continues to show us his love day after day. We just need to learn to seek in out in all situations. Psalm 111:2 says, "Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them." We need to ponder...place out attention and focus on God's great works.
Joy not just something that happens to us when the circumstances are right, we have to choose it and protect it. Then we will learn to live like Paul who said, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Php 4:12-13 NIV) He found joy and contentment in all circumstances because He knew that His relationship with Jesus and His trust in God's love mattered more than anything happening to Him.
There are all kinds of ways of seeking God's love and presence in our world. He may touch your heart in a song you hear or in some words that you read. It may be in your daily Bible reading or through a piece of scripture that you've remembered. It might be through various circumstances or in the He provides for some great need you have at just the right time. Just as Mary treasured up in her heart the events around Jesus' birth, we, too, should treasure up God's expressions of love for us to draw upon whenever we need them.
I've captured some video of people telling where they find love in the world...<video>
Let's let this be an encouragement to us all...to continue seeking out God's love and having faith that He will come through.
Once you've discovered God's love and are filled with joy, you've got to do something with it. We can't just keep it bottled up inside or keep it all to yourself. You need to let it out. Some of our kids have helped show us some ways they let their joy out...
<Down in My Heart Video>
We need to express our joy in the Lord. We need to sing and dance and shout for joy. We need to let others know of the incredible joy we've found in the love of God.
Psalm 116:12-14:How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. (Psa 116:12-14 NIV)
Raise your cup to the LORD...in thanks for Him and new life He has given us in Jesus..and dedicate ourselves to finding Him in all our lives.
Here are some ways some of you express that joy:<video>
Melissa: Knowing Jesus has made me into the person I am today. The person I've always wanted to be - but maybe I was afraid to be. Knowing Jesus gives me joy. I might not be where He wants me to be but every day I grow in my faith. The joy I have experienced in learning more and more about what Jesus did for us overwhelmes me
Let's always remember to come back to these three things: Hope-God has said that we are forigven through Jesus, that He has placed in Spirit in us, and that He wants to be our Father and LORD...let' cling to that hope in all things.
Faith-Let's take God at His Word and live as though He is fulfilling His promises...He does go before us and making a way for us meet our needs AND give us influence in the world for Him.
Love-Know that God has already demonstrated His love for us...seek His presence always.
With these we will find great joy! Now let's end our time together expressing the joy with all we've got. Let that joy out into all the world!
<Joy the the World>