This is the third week of our Christmas series called Presence. We are celebrating the fact that we have a God who isn’t far off. He isn’t distant and detached. He is close. He is near. He is present.
That’s why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Our lives were so broken…so messed up…so mired in sin that there was nothing we could do about it on our own. So God intervened. God Himself came into our world in the form of Jesus Christ. He was present in our world. And He is still present in our lives today. And His presence changes everything.
Let’s pray and then we’ll jump into the third message in this series.
“I think there must be something wrong with me. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”
And then later on, Charlie Brown goes to a “psychiatrist” named Lucy, and he tells her, “I know I should be happy, but I’m not.”
Have you ever felt that way? I think there’s something wrong with me. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I know I should be happy, but I’m not.
So what do you have here? You have unhappiness, and then you pile on feelings of guilt because you don’t think you’re supposed to be unhappy. That’s a real winning combination, isn’t it? Unhappiness, with a side order of guilt.
I’ve got a liberating truth for you today. It’s probably not what you expected to hear today, but this could absolutely set you free.
You don’t have to be happy. There is no rule that says you must be happy. There’s nothing in the Bible that says you must be happy.
Now, I hope you experience times of happiness in your life. I want that for you. But when seasons of unhappiness come, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.
“But, if I’m a Christian, doesn’t that mean that I should be happy?”
Well, let’s talk about that. Let’s look at what some people in the Bible said. These were godly people. People that God used in incredible ways. And yet, look at what they said during some unhappy seasons in their lives.
This is from the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19. “…[Elijah] went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4, NIV)
Does he sound happy to you? “God, I’ve had enough. I’m done. Just kill me and get it over with.” Not exactly happy.
Job was a righteous man. Here’s what he said in Job 10. “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 10:1, NIV)
I don’t think he’s happy, happy, happy. Do you?
And then there’s Jeremiah, who wrote, “My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground…” (Lamentations 2:11a, NIV)
Not a real happy moment for Jeremiah. And this comes from a book called Lamentations. It’s an entire book of the Bible that expresses sadness and laments.
And then there’s the book of Psalms in the Old Testament. Usually we think of the book of Psalms as a book of celebration and praise. But there’s another side to this book. Out of the 150 Psalms, as many as 67 of them are considered to be psalms of lament.
Like this from Psalm 88. “But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend.” (Psalm 88:13-18, NIV)
You’re probably not going to see those verses on a Christian t-shirt or a bumper sticker anytime soon.
Are you getting the point of all this? The people who said these things were God’s people. And they experienced times of intense unhappiness. They weren’t afraid to express it. They didn’t try to mask it. They didn’t try to cover it up in religious platitudes and clichés. They expressed it openly and honestly. They didn’t feel the need to somehow try to paint this picture that they were happy all the time. They were God’s people, and they experienced seasons of intense unhappiness. That’s not a contradiction.
There is no rule…there is no Biblical mandate or command that says you have to be happy all the time.
In fact, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4, NIV)
Life brings seasons of happiness and seasons of unhappiness. And you need to give yourself permission to be happy and to be unhappy. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean that you have no faith. It means that you’re human.
But here’s where we need to make a crucial distinction. Happiness and joy are not the same things. Last week we talked about the difference between feelings and facts. Happiness is a feeling. Joy is a fact. Feelings are fickle. Facts never change. Feelings come and go. Facts remain. Happiness is a feeling. Joy is a fact.
It’s so easy to get happiness and joy mixed up in our culture. Think about it. On the surface, who would you think are some of the most joyful people in our culture? One of the first things I think of are comedians. They must have figured out the secret. They laugh, and they make a good living making other people laugh. They must have found the key that unlocks this whole joy thing.
But in reality, when you examine the lives of some of the funniest people, you find that they are the most troubled, the most miserable, the most hopeless.
I’ll give you a few examples. Mitch Hedberg. Hilarious. I watched some Mitch Hedberg videos this week and I had tears running down my face because I was laughing so hard. The guy is absolutely hilarious. He’s also dead from a drug overdose.
Another example. John Belushi. Hilarious. And dead from a drug overdose.
Another example. Chris Farley. The guy absolutely cracks me up. His timing and delivery is unmatched. The van down by the river bit is my favorite. Incredibly gifted at making people laugh. Absolutely hilarious. And dead from a drug overdose.
These people made their living making us laugh. It would seem like they would know what joy really is. But tragically, they ended their own lives. They could make people laugh, but they never found joy.
Joy and happiness are different things. People can laugh, and still be miserable. Someone can be the life of the party and still have no joy.
That’s what Solomon said in the book of Proverbs when he wrote, “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.” (Proverbs 14:13, NLT)
The truth of the Bible is so practical and applicable. You can see this truth everyday of your life. Just because someone laughs doesn’t mean that they are fulfilled. It doesn’t mean they are at peace. It doesn’t mean they’ve found joy.
That’s why happiness is not what we’re after. Happiness is great, but it’s not ultimately what we’re after because it’s temporary. It’s fleeting. It’s fickle. It doesn’t last. It’s a feeling.
What we’re after is joy. Joy is a fact. Joy remains. Joy endures. Joy is eternal.
This entire series is based on one verse in Luke. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an angel made the announcement to a group of shepherds who were out in the fields tending their flocks.
In Luke 2:10, Luke writes, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10, NIV)
It doesn’t say that the angel brought them, “good news that will cause great happiness.” It says that the angel brought them, “good news that will cause great joy.”
Here’s how the shepherds responded to this news. Skip to verse 16 in Luke 2.
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:16-18, 20, NIV)
Joy was injected into their lives because of Jesus. But notice that after the shepherds found Jesus, Luke says that they “returned.”
Last week we talked about the low position that shepherds held in this culture. They were despised. They were not trusted. They were actively discriminated against. The life of a shepherd was a very rough, very sad life.
And after this group of shepherds found Jesus, that’s what they returned to. They returned to the fields. They went back to their sheep. They went back to the hard and hated life of a shepherd.
But even though their situation didn’t change, their perspective did. Yes, they went back to their low position, but they went back with joy. Because joy isn’t based on your circumstances. It’s based on Jesus.
Jesus’ presence brings great joy. That’s what the angel promised the shepherds. “I bring you good news that will cause great joy.” The news was that Jesus had been born. Jesus was now present with them.
The great joy wasn’t based on their situation. It was based on their Savior. And the same thing is true for us over 2,000 years later.
There’s an old country song called Looking for Love in All The Wrong Places. There might be a few rednecks like me who remember that song.
For a lot of us, we could say that we’re looking for joy in all the wrong places. We’re on this desperate search for joy, but our search is futile because we’re looking in all the wrong places.
If you’re waiting on a “what” or a “when” to bring you joy, you’ll never find it.
Maybe you’re waiting on a “what” to bring you joy. What’s your what? A job. A new house. A raise. A dream vacation. A new car.
Whatever your “what” is, it’s going to disappoint you because that’s not where joy is found.
Let’s say that, for you, it’s a new job that you think will bring you joy. Let me tell you the truth about that deal. You could land your dream job tomorrow, and you’d be just as miserable and unsettled as you are now because you’re looking for joy in the wrong place. It might provide temporary happiness, but it will never provide lasting joy.
Or maybe you’re waiting on a “when.” You’ll have joy when you meet somebody. Or when you graduate. Or when you get married. Or when you have a baby. Or when you finally have everything in your life lined up just like you planned it.
Whenever you achieve your “when,” you’re going to be disillusioned because that’s not where joy is found, either.
Joy isn’t a “what.” And joy isn’t a “when.” Joy is a “Who.” Not the Whos who live in Whoville. A different Who.
The questions that we need to stop asking is, “What will bring me joy?” or “When will I find joy?” Those are the wrong questions. The right question is, “Who will bring me joy?” And the answer is found in the person of Jesus Christ. If you’re looking for joy anywhere else, or through anyone else, you will always come up empty.
Happiness can be found in “whats” and “whens.” But joy is found in a “Who.” It’s found in the presence of Jesus.
And this is why happiness and joy are two different things. Warren Wiersbe said, “Happiness depends on right happenings.” Happiness is based on “whats” and “whens.” It’s based on external things that go our way. But joy is based on the presence of Jesus, and He is present with us in the good times and in the bad times. That’s why joy has nothing to do with the perfection of our situation…because it has everything to do with the presence our Savior.
That’s what we see in the story of the wise men or Magi from the book of Matthew. A lot of our traditions about these men aren’t really true. Early church tradition said that there were 12 wise men. Later church tradition changed the number to three. There are even songs written about it. “We three kings of Orient are.”
The Bible never says that they were kings. And it never tells us how many there were. It tells us that they brought three gifts, but it never tells us that there were three wise men.
And these Magi were never at the manger. Jesus was probably two-years-old when the Magi arrived. The Bible says that Jesus and His mother, Mary, were in a house. No manger. No stable or cave. Think Toddler Jesus, not Baby Jesus. Think walking, potty-trained Jesus. Think sleeping in a big-boy-bed instead of a manger Jesus.
That’s the truth about the visit of the Magi. And in just 2 paragraphs, I wrecked a lot of your Christmas beliefs and traditions. It’s what I do. You’re welcome.
But even though a lot of our traditions about the Magi are wrong, the truth about them is so much better.
The word “Magi” is where we get our word “magician.” In this context, it literally means “occult practitioners.” They were involved in astrology and other occultic practices that God had forbidden. In other words, they were first-class pagans.
But their encounter with Jesus changed everything. Here’s how Matthew describes it. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2, NIV)
These pagans had come to worship Jesus. God was already changing them. But He wasn’t done yet.
Here’s what Matthew writes when the Magi actually found Jesus. “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:9-10, NIV)
Stop right there for a minute. When the Magi saw that the star had led them to Jesus, they were overjoyed. This word “overjoyed” is actually four words in the original Greek language here in the book of Matthew. And the word “overjoyed” doesn’t quite capture it.
A better translation would be, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” (Matthew 2:10, ESV)
This was a joy that could not be contained. One possible way to read the original language would be that they jumped for joy like little children.
On Christmas Day, if you log onto Facebook, all your friends will be posting videos of their kids’ reactions to the gifts they receive on Christmas morning. They’ll be screaming and yelling and smiling and jumping up and down.
When you read the way Matthew describes the joy of the Magi, it’s very possible that this would be the best translation. They jumped for joy like little children.
Now, think about that. We don’t know a lot about these men, but we know they were wealthy because of the expensive gifts they gave to Jesus. We know that they were scholars. They were probably part of the social upper crust.
I don’t know what you think of when you hear that kind of description, but I’m thinking that these guys were probably a little stuffy. They were wealthy, scholarly men of refinement. I’m thinking there was probably a little starch in their collar. And they jumped for joy like kids. Their celebration was unrestrained. They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
And it’s all because they had found Jesus. The next verse in Matthew 2 is the key to it all.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11, NIV)
What did they do when they found Jesus? They worshipped Him. These great scholars, these pagan astrologers…jumped for joy and bowed down in worship.
And right there we find the truth that changes absolutely everything in our lives. If you want a life of joy, live a life of worship.
Worship raises our perspective. It turns our focus off our of situation and onto our Savior. Worship keeps us focused on the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. It reminds us that there is nothing that Jesus would not do for us. There is no limit to His love.
And worship leads us to joy, because we remember the hope that we have. When Jesus is involved, crucifixion is ALWAYS followed by resurrection. Pain, sorrow, discouragement, and death never have the last word when Jesus is involved.
Maybe you’re in a season of crucifixion in your life. Sometimes life just hurts. Things don’t make sense. And you’re not sure where God is or what God is doing.
In a season of crucifixion, it’s hard not to think that God has abandoned you. But Jesus reminds us that crucifixion is always followed by resurrection. Three days after Jesus died on a cross, He walked out of His tomb. And Jesus brings resurrection, hope, and new life to us, too.
When we worship, that becomes our focus. We focus on the cross. We focus on the empty tomb. We focus on a God who is present with us…who promised that He would never leave us or forsake us. We focus on a God who turns crucifixions into resurrections.
And that means that even in the hardest times of life…even when we have no idea what we’re going to do…even when we can’t see how things will ever work out…in the most unhappy times in our lives, we can still have joy.
If you’re living a life with no joy, you don’t have a life problem. You don’t have a problem with situations or circumstances. You have a worship problem. You’re not living a life of worship. Or, probably more accurately, you’re living a life worshipping the wrong things.
What’s that look like? It’s the guy who defines himself by his work. What he does has become who he is. His work has become his worship, and he is never satisfied. Never fulfilled.
It’s the lady whose identity has become completely wrapped up in her kids. Sure, she loves her kids. But she has also come to find her identity in her kids. Her children have become little four-foot-tall idols in her life, and she can’t understand why something is still missing.
An idol is anything that receives worship other than Jesus. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing to become an idol. All it has to do is become your primary focus. Your primary source of identity. That makes it an object of worship. That makes it an idol.
Here’s the thing about idols…they are joy-robbers. No idol can give you joy. Joy comes from a life that worships Jesus. If you have a joy problem, what you really have is a worship problem.
Think about how both the shepherds and the Magi reacted when they found Jesus? What did they do? They worshipped.
After the shepherds found Jesus, Luke wrote, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:20, NIV)
After the Magi found Jesus, Matthew wrote, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” (Matthew 2:10-11a, NIV)
These men couldn’t have been more different. The shepherds were poor. The Magi were wealthy. The shepherds were despised. The Magi were revered.
But when they found Jesus, those differences were stripped away. When these men found Jesus, the common denominator was worship.
And we have that same common denominator in our church. Here at Connect, we have blue collar and white collar. We have hipsters and rednecks. We have jocks and geeks.
But when we gather together, all those differences are stripped away. We become family because in the presence of Jesus, we’re all the same. We have the same common denominator…worship. And that common denominator produces in us all a common result…joy.
The poor shepherds were filled with joy. The rich Magi were filled with joy. Their circumstances didn’t matter. Their joy didn’t come from their situation. It came from their Savior.
That’s where our joy still comes from today. It comes from knowing Jesus. It comes from worshipping Jesus. It comes from staying focused on Jesus. It comes from knowing that Jesus is present with us.
That’s why we offer a chance to respond to Jesus every week here at Connect. We are here to talk with you, pray with you, and serve you in any way that we can. If you have questions or doubts, we’d love to talk with you. Or if you’re ready to surrender your life to Jesus…if you’re ready for the joy that only He can bring…we’re ready to meet you today.