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December 13, 2020 – Advent Week 3

Even in the tumult of 2020, we can still have joy…

Joy is something we need a little bit more of this year.

There’s an amount of joy to having a new baby, but there’s also a big disappointment. Shortly after birth, most of what babies do is eat, sleep, and poop. Even if you’re trying to get every picture of the baby for your photo albums and posts, they’re not doing a lot. It might not seem all that difficult either, but then the baby starts growing and changing, and moving. But one of the baby’s big firsts is the first smile. There’s a special joy when you see that first smile where your baby smiles at you on purpose.

Jesus’ version of the “photo album” is the set of stories we read about him in the Bible. There’s still not a lot about him when he’s a child. He’s kind of like the youngest child that doesn’t have as many pictures in the photo album. It’s difficult to imagine Jesus as a child without thinking of a baby in a manger in a stable. He doesn’t stay there long, however. We know that shepherds were there, and later the Magi show up, but Mary and Joseph start their lives together as a young family.

While there aren’t a lot of “snapshots” of life, with Jesus as a baby, learning to eat, learn to walk, or experiencing the little bumps on the road that his family would go through. But could you imagine the first time Jesus smiles on purpose?

The first time a baby smiles on purpose doesn’t come until a few weeks after birth. It’s wonderful to imagine Mary looking down, and seeing baby Jesus smile for the first time. Did she run to get Joseph so he can see it? But there would be one Joseph would eventually get to see.

Smiles reflect our joy. Joy shows up in the Bible over 300 times. The words happy and blessed appear almost 100 times each. But the Hebrew or Greek words for “smile” doesn’t really show up. Smiling in other countries and cultures means something different than what it might mean in the United States, and there are a lot of different smiles. But the real kind of smile that reaches your eyes is a genuine smile, and nothing makes us feel quite as good as that. Genuine smiles show that there’s real joy inside of us.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Luke 2:8-15 (NLT)

Do you wonder how fast the terror changed to joy and happiness? Imagine their going from fear, to hearing the incredible, unbelievable message, and then hosts of others joining in the chorus “Glory to God in highest heaven.”

But that joy is what drives us as Christians. There are a lot of things that can challenge our joy as Christians. But as we approach the days before Christmas, we should ask “Where is our joy?” or “Is there joy in us?”

We’re not talking about not taking life seriously. There are dark deep moments in Scripture. The Bible acknowledges that we’re going to go through some stuff in our lives. Yes, we’ll cry. Yes, we’ll be sad. Yes, there is death in this world. Difficult times will come. But that doesn’t mean you cannot have joy. Joy is not the same thing as happiness.

So, what will be your main orientation? Will you follow Paul’s teaching “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice,” or will you turn mean-spirited and cynical because of the difficulties to you and others?

A 2010 Wayne State University study of baseball cards discovered baseball players who had genuine smiles lived, on average, a few extra years compared to the ones who didn’t. Studies have also demonstrated that people with genuine smiles appear younger than people without.

The good news about the good news is that it’s a better way to live. Choosing to be joyful is a better way to live, than to be discouraged by the whims and difficulties of life.

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