Good News of Great Joy | Isaiah 9:2-3, Luke 2:1-14
Brad O’Dell | December 26, 2021
It’s December 26th, and it’s an interesting time of the season, because we’re in the midst of the Christmas season, especially for those who celebrate with extended families as well as immediate families, right? We’re kind of in between multiple Christmas events that we are celebrating in this season. On the 26th here we kind of do two things; to continue to celebrate the joy of the season, to continue to dwell on the wonders of the incarnation and the incarnation stories and passages that we see in the Scripture, and to receive all of those wonders anew; but we also get a chance to kind of take stock, don’t we? To take stock of how the season is going so far, and to see where are we at, where are our hearts at, what’s our time with the Lord been? So I kind of want to do both of those things in today’s sermon.
I think in my first stance of taking stock of the season, it’s a very important question, and that is, what the best Christmas movie actually is. I think I’m going to come down hard with “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, the Christmas story of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. It is the best Christmas movie, and I’ll defend it up here if I need to today.
For me, Christmas really hits and starts when on Christmas Eve we sit down and we watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. I don’t know what it is. It’s short, so it’s really manageable; it doesn’t take up the whole evening. It’s to the point, it has the gospel in there, it has the wonder of the incarnation, and it’s just fun and funny. There are a lot of funny lines. It just feels like Christmas. It’s all the joy and expectation of Christmas and you have the focus of Christmas very central in there.
But in that movie, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, the whole story is launched by this angst in Charlie Brown’s heart which is a very adult angst. That’s the funny thing about Charlie Brown; he has these very adult quandaries in his life, even though he’s a kid, right? But there’s this angst, and he says, “Hey, I know it’s Christmas, and I enjoy all the things of Christmas, but I don’t know what to say. I’m not happy, or I’m not as happy as I feel like I should be.”
The whole story is based on this inner angst that Charlie Brown has where he feels like he’s kind of missing Christmas. He’s missing the substance of what Christmas is. That’s kind of what launches most of the events of the movie. That’s why Lucy says, “You know what you need? You need more involvement,” and that’s when she gets him involved as the director for their Christmas play. It doesn’t go very well for him, but we do get reminded by Linus what the true meaning of Christmas is all about, and it’s focused on Jesus.
I think here, as we’re taking stock of the season, I just wanted to kind of open up and speak into that reality that there’s expectation versus reality in the Christmas season, right? I think every time we come to the Christmas season there’s this kind of weighing back and forth of the expectation of what we want this season to be and to feel like and what we want it to do in our hearts and souls, maybe in our lives. You know, let’s wrap up even in the new year season in that, a time of restart and rejuvenation. We kind of hope that as we look forward and we’re closing out one year and looking toward the next that there’s something fresh and new and wonderful that changes our lives.
I think if we’ve been through enough Christmases in life, we realize that the reality almost never quite hits the expectation. Sometimes it really underperforms. There’s just kind of that balance, that back and forth, that both-handed nature of the season. There’s a lot of expectation, and then there’s the reality of what the season brings. Sometimes they’re really close to one another, and sometimes there’s a dissonance or a discontinuity between them.
I don’t want the whole message to be about that today, but I’m going to try to speak into the nature of that today and just see what we can see from God’s word as we dwell on some of the themes that come out in Scripture, these Scripture passages that are focused on the Christmas message.
With that today, what I’m going to do is I’m going to look at two passages and kind of read them alongside together. In this Christmas season we’ve been in Isaiah 9, mostly focused in verse 6. Today I want to focus in verses 2-3 primarily and read Isaiah 9 alongside Luke 2. We actually haven’t had a chance to just dwell on the most classic Christmas passage of Luke 2, so I wanted to make sure we did that today. But I want to read these passages alongside each other and see similar themes that are coming out in both passages and dwell on those together and just see what we can learn as we dwell on some of those themes. So today we’re going to look at the themes of light, joy, and life, three words that we easily associate with the Christmas season. If you were paying attention to the lyrics of the songs we just sang, all these words just came up multiple times: light, joy, and life.
Let’s go to the Scripture and see what God has to say to us from these passages. I’ll start in Isaiah 9:1-3, and then I’m going to flip over to Luke 2 and just go straight in and read that for our time together, and then we’ll go back and dwell on some of the particular phrases. I’m going to test your Bible skills today; you’re going to have to flip fast, or if you aren’t a fast flipper then it’ll be on the screen as well.
Isaiah 9:1 says,
“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.”
We’ll flip over to Luke 2 now. I’m going to pick up in verse 1 and read through verse 14.
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“‘Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”
Then we know that the shepherds go and they see the baby Jesus, and they return in awe.
I’m going to focus on three themes as we look at these passages today: light, joy, and life. I want to see how all those themes show up in both passages, and how Luke 2 kind of seems to be the first inkling of the fulfillment of this prophetic passage in Isaiah 9.
Now (this is just an aside), Matthew 4 actually is going to take this passage in Luke 9 and apply it to Jesus after his temptation by Satan, when he goes into Galilee to start his earthly ministry. That was the time where Galilee of the nations, right, this light has shone. But I think we actually get the first inkling of the fulfillment of this prophecy in this event in Luke 2, and it’s the scene of the shepherds in the field at night, and the glory of the Lord shining.
So let’s look at the first theme, light. We see it there in Isaiah 9:2; it says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
The first thing we have to ask ourselves is, what is Isaiah talking about? What is this darkness that he’s talking about? What we see is in this context, really from Isaiah 7-10, he has a specific kind of event in view, and this is the kind of interchange moment in the history of Israel where they came from being kind of autonomous entity, where they made their own rules, to becoming a vassal state. A vassal state means that they served another greater power, and they had to pay tribute to them and kind of follow their rules. This is what’s about to happen in this transition in this time of Isaiah. He’s prophesying it happening with the kingdom of Assyria.
Now, half the nation of Israel is going to be totally conquered by Assyria; the rest of the nation, the southern half, Judah, isn’t going to be totally conquered until Babylon comes a little while later.
But here’s that transition point where Israel goes from being a self-contained entity, following the Lord and following their king, who’s supposed to be the Lord’s representative, to being a vassal state, where there’s actually an earthly authority over them besides their own king.
What he’s saying is, when Assyria comes, because of the distrust of the people of Israel, because of the sin of the people of Israel, there’s going to be great darkness that comes. In chapter 8 he describes it as “distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish.” We know, if we know ancient war tactics, why that might be. It was a brutal, brutal time for warfare, and when your nation was conquered a lot of rough stuff happened. So these are the people dwelling in darkness.
Listen to the prophecy. There’s kind of a progression in what happens with the light. FIrst of all, he says a light is going to come. The darkness will not be eternal. The darkness is not going to be all there is. A light will come. He says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” It starts with seeing the light, but then the light shifts and the light shines on the people.
I think what we get is something like this. Imagine you are trapped in a dark place; you’re held captive, and you can’t cry out, your hands are all tied up, your feet are all tied up; you’re trapped in darkness, and there’s no hope for you. You know that you’re trapped in darkness and you’re only waiting for the final darkness that’s going to come, death, because you’re just trapped there.
But if you imagine yourself in that circumstance and you see a light all of a sudden, imagine the thrill that would happen to your heart. “Oh my, there’s hope!” It’s not just the darkness. Someone’s out there searching; there’s a light moving around. A light has shone. There’s hope that springs up, and there’s an expectation that springs up, but you still are trapped in darkness.
There’s a great difference between the light and having that light shift onto you and to know that is when the salvation is sure. You are seen, your plight is known, and you know that your rescue is now sure, because the one with the light has now shone it on you, and you know that salvation is at hand. It’s quite a difference, right? In one sense you see the light, and in the next sense the light is actually shining on you and you know that your plight is seen.
I think it’s an important distinction, right out here at the outset. We’re talking about salvation, right? This is what Isaiah’s prophesying. He’s prophesying a future day of salvation that’s going to be pretty grand in scope, cosmic in scope. What he’s saying is, “Listen, it’s really important that there isn’t just a light out there.” A lot of people think this is what the Christian faith is; that there’s a light out there, that there’s light to be had, so if we can just unshackle ourselves, if we can kind of release the things that are keeping us in the darkness and start to grasp our way to the light and find our way to it, then we can find salvation. But that’s not the Christian message at all, and that’s not the message of salvation that the Bible portrays. It’s not just that there is a light, but it’s that the light comes to you, and the one with the light rescues you, even though you can do nothing to deliver yourself from the darkness around you.
I want to just focus on that at the outset here. It’s not the main point of the passage, but I think it’s a profound point, that the story of salvation is not just that Jesus is a light in the Christmas season, but that he’s a light that comes to shine on you, that he sees you, he knows your plight, he knows the things that have entrapped you in darkness. So it’s not just the thrill and the hope of the light, but it’s the sure rest that comes from knowing that salvation is sure, because the light has shone on me. I think that’s the glory of Christmas.
Let’s go to Luke 2 and see how this theme kind of plays out there as well. In Luke 2 we see this image, right, of the shepherds sitting in a field at night. Don’t miss the point that it’s at night. It’s an intentional point. There’s a reason that the angel appeared at this time.
I think we miss the significance of this because we’re so used to having light around us all the time. If we go outside, there are street lamps around. We have one that shines outside of our window. I wish that there was more darkness outside of my window at night, right? Our neighbor has a security light, and everything sets that security light off. So all night it’s, “Hey, here I am! Here I am!” We’re like, “Thank you.”
Anyway, we’re so surrounded by light, right, that I don’t know that we really understand what it is to be in a place at night with zero light pollution and zero light sources around except for the night sky. Now, if that’s a full moon night, that’s quite a bit of light there.
But think of a dark night, no moon, and how dark it would be out there in the middle of the field.
Then what we see is something changes in an instant. An angel of the Lord appears, and the glory of the Lord shines around them, and it fills them with great fear. Light breaks into darkness.
There’s something key here that at this transition of time and history and of salvation history, something key is happening. That light has shown in darkness and a new thing is coming.
I just wanted to say right here at the outset, the Christmas season is a season where we recall that Jesus is the one who dispels darkness. In Luke 8 Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” That’s who Jesus is. He’s the one who dispels darkness.
As we’re kind of taking stock of the Christmas season, I wonder if there’s someone here—maybe a number of us—who have had this season be a season of darkness in a lot of ways. I know that you see lots of joy around, lots of light, lots of laughter; but for you, for some reason, you just feel like you’ve been ensconced in darkness for the most part. The darkness just seems all-encompassing.
I want to from the Bible remind us today that Jesus is the one who dispels darkness. He’s not just out there shining, waiting for us to come to him and save ourselves, but he sees you, he knows your plight. He knows what the darkness of your soul is. Maybe it’s a grief, maybe it’s an anguish, maybe it’s a hardship, maybe it’s a real battle with sin. Maybe it’s deep, deep shame. Jesus is the one who shines the light into that darkness and says, “There is salvation, there is rescue, there is hope. Turn to me. I am the light of the world; follow me, and you’ll not walk in darkness. You will have the light of life.”
In this season, if you feel like you’re in a season of darkness, I would just encourage you, take your eyes off the darkness and start to dwell on the light. Recall that there is light, that there is salvation this season. Maybe today is the day where you turn your heart back to the Lord and begin to focus on Jesus affresh and rejoice in the salvation that he can bring.
I also want to just say right here, there might be a lot of people—I hope this is the case—who don’t really feel like it’s been a season of darkness at all. That doesn’t really seem to explain your experience. In fact, you would say, “Praise God! I’ve had seasons like that, but it’s not a season like that this year, and there’s been a lot of joy and a lot of life and laughter.”
I would say to you, those who don’t feel like they are just trapped in darkness or that the darkness is all-encompassing, and that there’s a light out there, have you actually taken the time this Christmas season to bask in the light?
You know, sometimes it’s a beautiful day outside, and I know that it’s the perfect weather. It’s unseasonal; the sun’s shining, the clouds are big and white and they’re drifting across the sky. I know it’s a beautiful day outside and I kind of have a happiness to it, but I never go outside all day. Right? I knew it was out there, but it kind of stayed out there, and I actually didn’t just go out and enjoy it. I didn’t sit under the sun. I can’t do it for too long, but I can for a little bit, with my skin. I didn’t go out there and just sit under the sun, I didn’t go out and play golf, or I didn’t go out there and do something, take a walk with my wife—whatever it might be. I didn’t go out and actually enjoy it.
I think our Christian life can kind of be like that, too, and I think especially at Christmas. We know that there’s a lot of joy in this season and we kind of know it’s there and it fills us up with joy in a lot of ways, but we don’t actually take time in the Christmas season to bask in the light. We spend our time on lots of things, lots of really important things, lots of things that bring temporary joys, but we don’t actually turn to the source of joy, and that’s Jesus himself. We didn’t actually spend time meditating on him; we didn’t actually spend long times in the word, just dwelling on his goodness; we didn’t actually spend lots of time in prayer, just being filled up with the joy of who Jesus is. We didn’t bask in the light.
Guys, there’s still a lot to the season here. I would encourage you, if you haven’t really spent the time—if you’ve spent your time on a lot of other things, let this be a season where you turn back to the Lord and really spend some good time. I know there are a lot of things that demand our time in a season like this, but let’s not compromise our time with the Lord and have it be a season where we had a lot of temporary joys but we didn’t actually bask in the full joy of the season by focusing on Jesus.
Which brings me to my next point, which I talked about a lot, and that’s the theme of joy in this passage. Look at it in Isaiah 9:3. It says, “You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy. They rejoice before as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.”
What we see is this trajectory in Isaiah 9, that we’re also going to see in Luke 2 here in a second, of misery or anguish. Anguish and fear to joy; that trajectory.
I’ve already kind of pointed out the idea of anguish and why this would be a season of anguish, but I don’t think we quite see clearly fear. One commentator helped me see into this passage, that everything that’s talked about in verse 3 are fears that the people of Israel would have had when they were considering a foreign power coming and taking them over, right?
When it says, “You have multiplied the nation,” that’s actually in response to the fear of Israel that the nation would diminish and disappear because a foreign people would take them over and might kill them off and eradicate them completely, take their land. He says, “Instead of the nation diminishing and disappearing, instead I’m going to multiply you.”
When it says, “You have increased its joy,” of course, they thought that the misery and anguish was never going to end, right? But he says, “No, not just is there joy, but there’s an increase of joy beyond what you can imagine.”
Then there’s a great fear that when this happens, when a hardship like this is happening a lot of your money and resources have to go to a foreign nation, that the nation would fall into famine and want. That would be a great fear of the people at that time. But he said, “No; instead, you will rejoice as with joy at the harvest.” He says your joy will be such as if you’ve had abundant harvest.
Then you see the fear that is most directly in view, and that’s that they would become spoil to the foreign nations; that their goods, their houses, everything they’ve worked for multi-generations to develop, will just be given away to foreign nations and that they would become spoil. He said, “No, no; joy is coming, and it will be as if you have the spoil from a great victory, and you are actually kind of bolstering or building out your coffers, and you’re distributing it to all.” Everybody has their needs fulfilled.
What we see here is the great fears of the people of Israel at this time. In this day of salvation, he says there will be no more fear; instead, it’s going to be replaced by joy.
We see that same progression here in Luke 2. It says, “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” There you see the fear. But the angel said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Good news of great joy! That is my favorite phrase in all of the Christmas stories: Good news of great joy. I really like the ESV for translating it just like that: Good news of great joy. In fact, I’ve tried to find a Christmas pillow that’s nicely stitched and it says, “Good news of great joy,” but the other versions of the Bible popular, so anything close to that it doesn’t say it. It’s been a really difficult find, so if any of you are great knitters, pillow-makers, I have a stage and I get to cast that desire out there, because it’s still the Christmas season, right?
Good news of great joy. I think it just encapsulates the wonder of the incarnation so well in that one phrase. Good news. It’s that same that is used in the New Testament, euangelion, which is usually translated “gospel,” or sometimes “good news,” but it’s the good news of the gospel of Christ. That is this, that Jesus came and he lived the life that we couldn’t live ourselves—this life of righteousness before God, perfect righteousness—and then he took the penalty for our sins on himself so that we didn’t have to pay them, and then he was raised to new life in victory over sin and death, and he says, “I will give you that victory that I have. I lived the life you couldn’t live, I died the death that you deserve, and then I’m giving you the life that you could not attain on your own, and it is true life, it is full life, it is the very life that I have in and of myself.”
That is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and right here we see it, right at this first instance where we see Jesus has come into the world, that phrase “good news.” What does it bring? Great joy.
What a phrase, right? When Jesus came into the world, it’s not just that he would give us happiness. Honestly, it’s not just that he would give us salvation, but that in that we would have great joy fill our souls.
Isn’t it a wonderful hing that God’s heart for us is that we would have great joy? Or in the words of Peter, “joy that is inexpressible and full of glory.” Good news of great joy.
I think in the Christmas season we celebrate the fact every year that Jesus is the one who brings us great joy, and that that’s available to us if we are followers of him. That’s available to us as we pursue him, as we dwell on the wonder of who he is, as we turn the eyes of our hearts toward him.
I want to speak into this, though, as we focus on great joy. I think there are a lot of people here for whom that just seems kind of ungraspable, right? “Great joy? I mean, I’ve had a lot of joy this season, pastor, but I don’t know that I could say I’ve had great joy, where my mind’s been blown, there’s no other emotion in me but joy upon joy.” Right?
I want to just say to you, that’s probably true, and that’s probably valid. If you’ve felt like, “Man, this Christmas season I’m missing something. There must be something wrong with me,” and that’s turned your gaze inward because you didn’t feel like you were experiencing the great joy that should be had in this season, I want to put this as a balm for your soul this morning. That’s okay, because great joy is something that comes in snaps. It’s not the normal expectation of what everyday life is walking the walk of faith.
In the Bible, it’s funny, the phrase “great joy” only comes up a little more than a handful of times. Joy is mentioned over 200 times in the Bible. God loves joy and he wants you to be people who are full of joy and he wants you to have a joy in him. It’s a wonderful thing that that’s God’s heart for you.
But this phrase “great joy” only comes up a few times. I know we’re kind of talking about translation between Hebrew and Greek and how we translate that into English, so we can have a little bit of leeway here. But this idea of “great joy” only comes up a little more than a handful of times.
In the Old Testament it’s three gigantic moments in Israel’s history.
When Solomon is enthroned and the temple is dedicated, David’s son will sit on the throne; it was at the height of Israel’s kingdom. Great joy.
In Hezekiah’s time, when they reinstitute the Passover, after it’s been neglected for years, and they actually go ahead and celebrate it two weeks in a row. They just double it up because they are trying to seek the Lord in confession and repentance. Great joy is what the Lord gives the people.
When they come back from exile and they rebuild the walls in Nehemiah’s time, when the walls are rebuilt, great joy is the proclamation that people had.
Then we see it in the New Testament. We see it right here in this passage, also in Matthew’s account, at the incarnation, at the birth of Jesus: great joy.
At the resurrection and ascension of Jesus: great joy. When in Acts 15 they see that they Gentiles have been included in God’s plan for creation, his salvific plan, great joy is what captures the hearts of the people.
Then we see it in Jude, when he’s talking about that final day where we stand in the glory of the Lord. He says we will be filled with great joy.
Those are big moments, but we see that that’s not the normal expectation. We see this idea that great joy comes in seasons, comes in moments of the Christian’s life, and that it comes in moments of the walk of faith, but it’s not the normal expectation. Instead, the normal expectation in this already/not yet season . . .
What do I mean by this already/not yet? It’s this thing that Jesus has come and he’s instituted his kingdom and he’s provided all this light and joy and life to us, but we know that we still live in a sinful creation and we’re waiting for the second coming of Jesus, where everything will be fulfilled. The gifts and the blessings of the Christmas season are already here, the gifts and the blessings of Jesus’s life are already here, and his salvation; however, they are not yet completely fulfilled.
In this “already/not yet” kind of time, where we await the second coming of Jesus, the normal expectation of joy is that it’s mixed, it’s diluted, it’s undulating, it’s embattled; because we have real joy, but we also have real grief, we have real hardships, we have real battles with sin, we have real darkness that comes into our lives.
I think we can make an error. We can say, “Well, if I don’t have great joy all the time, I’m going to give up on this prospect of joy altogether.” I’m going to say that’s not actually what the Bible presents. There can be a real, soul-satisfying, ground-under-your-feet, solid joy in your life, even in the midst of hardship and pain.
The error we can make on the other hand is to say the everyday joy that we have in life is all there is; we actually don’t yearn for and look for those moments of great joy, fullness of joy, and we don’t look forward to the day with that much expectation of being in the presence of Jesus and receiving the fullness of joy that he’s promised.
If you do find yourself in a season where joy has seemed fleeting, it’s been tough to grasp in this Christmas season, I have a few practical instructions. I got this from John Piper, an article called “Fifteen Tactics for Joy”. I’m not going to go through 15; I have a selection of them. I just thought these were good. Here are some practical things for you to implement this Christmas season as you seek to have a true joy even in the midst of pain, as you seek to be sorrowful yet always rejoicing, in the words of Paul.
(1) Number one, realize that authentic joy is a gift of God. Authentic joy in God is a gift, so don’t be afraid to turn to God and admit, “God, I don’t have a joy in you the way I feel like I ought to. I feel like joy is fleeting and it’s tough to hold onto. I feel like the other things in my life that are hard are taking my whole gaze, and I’m asking you to do a work in my heart that I can’t do, and to increase in me the joy of the Lord, to turn my eyes to Jesus anew and let me rejoice in you.” It’s a gift; feel free to ask God for it. He delights to give it to those who seek him.
(2) Realize that the battle is primarily a fight to see God for who he is. I think in the midst of hardship and pain and darkness, our eyes can get absorbed by the issue or the problem in front of us, and it kind of absorbs our whole vision. The idea here is that joy comes from actually dwelling on God, his majesty, his glory, his power, his sovereignty, all of his promises, all of the ways he has served you and all the ways he has brought honor to your life, all the ways he’s blessed you in your past. The idea is to see God for who he is and to dwell on him. That really is the battle with the eyes of your heart, to dwell on God, to see his glory and his majesty, and to turn your eyes from the thing of anguish and to focus them on God as much as you can. It’s a battle to see, and as you see God he will fill your vision and the darkness will be dispelled more and more.
(3) This one’s good: Learn to preach to yourself rather than listen to yourself. I think this is one of the most important spiritual disciplines you can learn. In seasons, it’s going to feel like everything in your experience, everything in your mind, everything in your emotions are going to say, “God is not on the throne; he doesn’t see, he doesn’t care, he’s not going to deliver me! This darkness is all there is, and it’s never going to change.” Everything in you would say that, and that’s when you have to stop listening to yourself and learn to preach to yourself the truths of the word of God instead.
I think a really good example of this you see in the book Jane Eyre. In Jane Eyre, there’s this moment where Jane—she comes to love this man, and she thinks he’s eligible as a single guy—she finds out that he’s actually married. It’s an interesting situation; I’ll let you read the book. It’s pretty crazy. I mean, people keep getting lit on fire crazy, right? So go read the book.
But in this book, she desires to love this man, and he loves her, and she desires to live life with him. She could become his mistress, as it were, and just live with him, knowing that there’s a wife that’s kind of out there who’s out of the picture for the most part now. But she says, “No, that’s not right.” But everything in her heart and in her mind says, “Receive this man’s love and just run off with him.” But she knows that it’s wrong, she knows that it will bring destruction.
This is what she says to herself. This is her turning around to preach to herself what she knows is true. She says, “I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. [When my emotions are going, I’m mad.] Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”
Do you hear that? That’s a powerful quote, isn’t it? “There I plant my foot.” That’s the discipline that we learn in the Christian life, that when our veins run fire, when our emotions, when our experiences seem to say everything against what the word of God says, we turn around and we preach to ourselves. “That’s not true, and if I wasn’t caught up in the moment here I would know it more truly than I would here.” So I turn around and I preach to myself what’s true, and there I plant my foot. I listen to what I believed when things weren’t crazy and my emotions were not in control.
(4) Here’s another one: Spend time with God-saturated people who help you see God and fight the fight. Guys, we weren’t designed to walk this walk of faith alone. We were designed to walk it with other people in community. If you aren’t community, if you don’t have people that you can all in these times, if you don’t have people who are checking in on you, holding you accountable, if you don’t have people who can walk alongside you, who know God and can turn your heart and your mind back to what is true and right, you’re not going to make it. We weren’t designed to make it that way. God saved us into a community; we’re supposed to walk this walk of faith in community. Surround yourself with those people and let them start speaking into your life.
(5) Lastly, be patient in the night of God’s seeming absence. The psalmist says that weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Guys, there will be times where God seems absent, he seems far away, he seems silent. You see it if you read the Old Testament, if you read the psalms; you see it all throughout there. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That was said by a man just walking the walk of faith before it was cried out by Jesus on the cross.
There are times where it feels like God is far away, he doesn’t see, he doesn’t hear. Be patient in those times. Don’t lose hope, don’t give up; be patient, continue to do the things that you know you’re supposed to do; pursue the Lord; keep trudging on, because joy comes with the morning.
In my last point I want to focus on life. One scholar, Charles Scoby, as we talk about these themes of joy and peace at Christmas, salvation or healing, he says really these are all subcategories in the Old Testament of what life was. Life was walking with God in the presence of God and according to his ways. That was true life. It was mostly focused on a quality of life. In the New Testament that’s going to get developed into the idea of eternal life with Jesus and life in Christ, but this idea that life is an aspect of these other categories.
What we see is that life had four categories that he describes: peace or shalom; that’s that holistic wellbeing—Brian talked about that in the message last week—health and healing, the ability that when illness, which is the enemy of life, comes against you, that you can turn to the Lord and actually find healing and have a hope of having holistic health was you live according to the edicts that God’s laid out in the law; blessing.
You see this when the people are going into the land and Moses is preaching to them, and he says, “Listen, I laid out all the covenant blessings and all the covenant curses.” He says, “I lay before you today life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life.” What’s he saying? Choose to live in the blessings that God has promised as you walk with God and according to His ways.
Then joy. Joy is this good feeling in the soul that comes from delighting in all of these good gifts of God—the peace, the health, the healing, the blessing.
What we see here at Christmas when we’re talking about all these things, what we really have in view is life. It’s nothing less than true life, the life that God designed us to have and enjoy and the life that he calls us to in Christ and the life that he promises us to receive in fullness in the coming age when we are complete in Christ. Life. What we see before us at Christmastime is life.
We see it all in the passage in Luke 2. We see the proclamation of peace on earth by the angels as they appear in the heavens. We see the idea of health and healing when he talks about a Savior, he who will heal you from the great enemies of your soul, that is, sin, Satan, and his demons. We see blessing. We see that in the proclamation of good news, which is the idea of the gospel of grace that God gives. It’s the premier blessing. And we see that it brings great joy.
It’s good to remember in this Christmas season that we recognize that true life is only found in Jesus. I just want to ask you, right here, as we take account of the Christmas season so far, have you been living in the life that is yours in Christ, or have you been trying to draw life—we’re talking about this quality of life, peace, health or healing, blessings, joy—have you been trying to leach those from lots of things that won’t ultimately satisfy you?
I think before us at Christmastime we just say, have we really focused on Jesus? Have we really dwelt on him? Have we really spent time letting our hearts be filled up with joy in Jesus? Have we worshiped him and given him time? We still have time. As we go into the new year even, guys, true life—no matter what this life brings to you; hardship, trial, whatever it might be—true life is going to be found in walking with Jesus and according to his ways.
Just a few things here at the end, practical instructions.
Spend some time in meditative time in the word. Read the truths and meditate on them and dwell on them in prayer. Meditate time in the word. Don’t just read, don’t just try to learn, don’t just take notes, but actually meditative time, where you sit in the truths that the word is bringing across and you rejoice in them, and you let yourself find awe in them and worship.
Turn that into worshipful time of prayer. Don’t just lay out all the things you need from God. He wants to hear those things; that’s okay, it’s good; but actually spend time dwelling on him and worshipping him and praising him. Worshipful time in the word.
Then also this: try to take those times (meditative time in the word and worshipful time in prayer) and place it for something else that tries to promise those things to you instead, promise this life and this light, this joy. Whatever you’re giving your time to in this Christmas season—I know it’s a lot of things, guys, but let’s try to pull ourselves away from at least one or two of those things and say, “Instead I’m going to focus here, worshiping Jesus, focusing on Jesus, abiding with Jesus, letting myself be filled up with life there, and then going forward and doing what I need to do.”
Just like Linus says in the Christmas story, that really is what the season’s all about. That light and life and joy, it really is found in Jesus. If you come to church only at Christmastime every year and you’re like, “That’s what they say every year!” It is what we say every year, because it is the answer. It’s the key. It’s the only reason we’re here, because Jesus brought life. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” That’s the truth that we hold fast to, and that’s what we walk in day after day—not only in the Christmas season but in the coming year as well. Please pray with me.
Lord Jesus, we thank you for the truth of your word and the wonders of this season. We ask that you would be magnified in our time together here, that you would really just open up the eyes of our hearts to see you, that you would satisfy our hearts in you and you alone, and maybe that you would just incline our hearts unto you today, and that we would find satisfaction in you and you alone today. We pray this in your name, Jesus Christ, amen.