Joy to the World

Recently, I was listening to a teaching by Andy McCullough. He was telling a story about a missionary who had gone out to a particular country just before Lockdown 1.0. They were feeling frustrated that they had been in the country for nearly nine or ten months and felt like they had little to show for their time there.

He explained how he had told this person not to worry about what they had to show because their very presence in the nation and the town was a gift, based on John 20:21 “... As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you …”

This reminded me of a sermon I heard a few years ago from John Paul Jackson talking about how our very presence in our communities pushes back the darkness because of He who lives in us. This got me thinking.

‘Joy to the World’ is one of my favourite Christmas carols:
‘Joy to the World; the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing.’

Jesus is the gift of joy to the world.

Joy in the world, however, is based on material things: how successful we are, what type of house we may live in, what car we drive etc … These things might bring happiness, but happiness only ever lasts for a season. God wants us to experience joy that is not dependent on our circumstances because our joy is based on the hope we have in Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

TV adverts, the news and programmes now seem to be dominated with the theme that Christmas will not be the same this year because of the circumstances that we are living in.
Maybe Christmas for some of us will look a bit different as to how and with whom we choose to spend it.

However, our joy is not based on how many presents are under the tree, what those presents are or even how we spend Christmas. It’s based upon the fact that joy personified came down at Christmas to save a hurting and dying world.

Without Christmas we would not have Easter.

But joy is a choice – we have to choose to rejoice.

In Habakkuk 3:17-19 it says:
“Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.”

Habakkuk here is describing disaster upon a nation that is akin to what Joel describes in the wake of the plague of locusts. Everything they depend on to meet their needs and feed their families has gone. There is devastation all around.

Having faced the facts Habakkuk declares, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (v 18).

It is one thing to rejoice in God when we feel blessed and everything is going well. It is another to rejoice when all these blessings have been removed.

Yet scripture tells us to rejoice in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:16-18). We make a choice to rejoice because joy is not dependent on circumstances.

In this passage, Habakkuk has learned that his joy is not dependent or conditioned by external things but is rooted and established in God Himself. If we learn to find joy in the Lord regardless of what may come our way, then He remains the constant source and reason for our joy. This joy is the fruit of our personal relationship with Him, in knowing that He is our Saviour. I can rejoice because He is my God, and I am His child.

Habakkuk then continues to say that “the Lord God is my strength …”. He makes it clear that the reason for his confidence in such a grim situation is not due to his own inner strength but due to God, who is providing the strength he needs.

This passage echoes David’s words in Psalm 18: 31-33 -
“For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.”

David wrote this at a time of deliverance and victory. Habakkuk chooses similar words to express his trust in God and that it is in God he finds his strength.

Both Habakkuk and David use the description of a deer’s ability to scale dangerous terrain. By placing her back feet exactly where her front feet have trodden, the deer can run and leap across a difficult landscape.

When we run with ‘hind’s’ feet on high places’ we are choosing to live above our circumstances. God gives us the strength, not only to stand firm in the face of adversity but also to rise above it and make progress at the same time - to be free like the deer on the mountains.

Habakkuk discovered the joy of turning difficulties into opportunities to discover more of God’s strength in his own life.

“People who insist on happiness never find joy because happiness is fleeting, it only lasts a season. Hard times and struggles are a prelude to joy always. Whether or not we receive what we ask, pray, or hope for should not change the behaviour of us as believers. Our worship and walk do not depend on answered or unanswered prayers, we worship Him because of who He is and His Lordship in our lives.” (Larry Crabb – Shattered Dreams).

Right now, you might be facing struggles of your own that could include unpaid bills, sickness, threat of job loss or feelings of anxiety or despair. We do not rejoice for those things, but we can rejoice in the midst of them.

Rejoice because God has an answer even if you can’t see it yet.

Rejoice because even on your worst day you are still headed to heaven.

God’s strength comes when we choose to rejoice – the joy of the Lord is our strength .(Nehemiah 8:10).

This brings me back to the story at the start. In the same way that Jesus was a gift to the world, we are a gift to those where He has planted us.

As we choose joy and allow our hearts to be filled with Him this season, let us be a gift to our families, neighbours and communities this year, demonstrating a joy that is not dependent on our circumstances or situations but on the one who is the real reason for the season.

Christine Devenish