I thought that since Advent was a time of preparation and anticipation for the birth of Christ, that I would get us in the spirit with a well-known poem by Robert Southwell entitled
“New Prince, New pomp”
Behold a silly tender Babe,
in freezing winter night;
In homely manger trembling lies,
alas a piteous sight:
The inns are full,
no man will yield this little Pilgrim bed,
But forced He is with silly beasts,
in crib to shroud His head.
Despise Him not for lying there,
first what He is enquire:
An orient pearl is often found,
in depth of dirty mire;
Weigh not His crib,
His wooden dish,
nor beasts that by Him feed:
Weigh not His mother's poor attire,
nor Joseph's simple weed.
This stable is a Prince's court,
the crib His chair of state:
The beasts are parcel of His pomp,
the wooden dish His plate.
The persons in that poor attire,
His royal liveries wear,
The Prince Himself is come from heaven,
this pomp is prized there.
With joy approach, O Christian wight,
do homage to thy King,
And highly prize this humble pomp,
which He from heaven doth bring.
I like this poem because it captures well what I like best about the Christmas story. It captures the ironic fact that the king of our world was born in unpleasant and unexpected conditions. Here he was, a piece of heaven come down to earth lying in a simple feeding trough.
During the season of Advent we celebrate not only the babe from heaven, but the other pieces of heaven that came with Christ, the gifts of Hope, joy, piece and Love.
Richard spoke last week about the hope Christ brought to our sinful world, and today I would like to speak about the Joy that came with Christ.
We have heard two scripture passages today, the first you read with me in the litany at the beginning of the Service. Since it is Christmas, it is important that we remember the pronouncement to the shepherds of the Joy that Christ brought.
It is only natural that we should speak often of Joy during the Christmas season, but do you realize how often we speak of the theme of Joy?
Let’s look at some of the Christmas carols that we sing:
There’s the obvious:
“Joy to the world the Lord has come”
Even in the second verse, it calls us to “repeat the sounding joy”
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
Come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem
God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy
And why not sing about joy? It is a great gift to receive. But, what exactly is joy?
Harper Collin’s Bible Dictionary says that joy in the OT came from 3 places:
1) From God’s Love of Israel
2) From the eschatological hope that Israel would be delivered by God
3) And finally in keeping the commandments
It is only natural that Joy be associated with Christ’s birth because he was
1) The manifestation and incarnation of God’s Love
2) He was the Hope of deliverance for all of God’s children
3) And he helped us to keep the commandments, by giving us a new commandment, Love God and love one another!
Look with me at our second scripture that Ann read for us in John 15:9-11.
“As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my
fathers commands and remained in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be complete in you and that your joy may be complete.”
What is joy? It is, like Christ, a piece of heaven sent down to earth. C.S. Lewis said in his letters to Malcolm that “Joy is the SERIOUS business of heaven. Joy is a state of being. Joy is more than happiness or pleasure; it is something that comes only through the presence of Christ in our lives. David M Howard Jr. says this about Lewis’ thoughts on joy.
“He sharply distinguishes “joy” from happiness or pleasure, which are much more oriented to the immediate, to gratifications of various types, most of them instant, and, in the end, not satisfying over a long period of time.”
William Henry Davies agrees with Lewis’ views of joy and pleasure in his poem “The Best Friend”
William Henry Davies
The Best Friend
Now shall I walk
Or shall I ride?
"Ride", Pleasure said;
"Walk", Joy replied.
Now what shall I --
Stay home or roam?
"Roam", Pleasure said;
And Joy -- "stay home."
Now shall I dance,
Or sit for dreams?
"Sit," answers Joy;
"Dance," Pleasure screams.
Which of ye two
Will kindest be?
Pleasure laughed sweet,
But Joy kissed me.
Lewis himself said, “I sometimes wander whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy?”
Joy sometimes accompanies happiness and pleasure, but joy has the power to endure where pleasure and happiness fail. As an example, Let’s look at joy from Mary’s point of view.
Joy was present when Mary heard the news about carrying God’s only son. Joy was present when she held a newborn Jesus in her arms. Joy was present when Mary watched her son teach great wisdom to larger and larger crowds. Joy was present when Mary beheld the miracles that Christ performed. And somehow, because joy and happiness are not the same, joy was even present when Mary watched her son suffering and dying on the cross. How can there be joy there you ask? Because there was the hope and love of God, and the promise, that Christ would rise again.
Joy is something that we cannot achieve on our own. It is not something we can find, it is like Christ, truly a gift from God! Look closely at our passage in John. Christ speaks about abiding in his and his father’s love. So in order to experience pure joy, we must understand that it comes via the love of Christ. He then speaks about keeping his commands (to love each other). We understand then that joy is a gift of God’s love, and manifests itself in doing God’s work.
So we know that Joy is a taste of heaven; a glimpse of the kingdom of God. Maybe that is one of the reasons that when Christ speaks about the kingdom of God, he sometimes speaks of it being near, or at hand, and sometimes speaks of it as something not part of this world. Christ brought with him a part of the kingdom when he brought with him Hope, peace, Love, and joy.
In addition, like the importance of the angel’s proclamation of joy to the shepherds, What Christ is telling his disciples about joy is something of which to take note. He says that their joy is not yet complete, and it won’t be until Christ’s joy is complete. What is it that Christ had not done to complete his joy? Earlier in this same setting in John, Christ again told his disciples of his betrayal and death. I think that Christ was saying that the full extent and showing of his and God’s love for the world would not be complete until he had died and was raised to be with his father again. In the same way, we could not completely experience the Joy that God gives us until we experience the death and resurrection of Christ. Only then will our joy be complete.
Therefore, Christ is saying, that at his death, and at the full realization of God’s love displayed on the cross, CHRIST WOULD BE COMPLETING OUR JOY!
This is what we look forward to during advent. This is what we sing our Christmas songs of praise about. Joy has come to us, first in the form of a child in a stable, then in the form of a radical teacher, then in the form of our savior on the cross, and finally in the form of our risen Lord! So, unlike the Shepherds who only got a taste of joy, our joy has been made complete! We can both anticipate the coming of this joy during Advent, and reflect on the joy in our lives because of the sacrifice that God made to save us. I don’t know about you, but to me, That is something to rejoice about.