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God With Us Brings JOY!

Joy to the world graphics

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born." (Luke 1:11-15 NIV)

Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful servants of the Most High God. Zechariah was a priest on duty at the temple. Elizabeth was also a descendent of the first High Priest, Aaron (brother of Moses). Luke tells us they were upright and observed the Lord's commands blamelessly. They are good people. They are pillars of the church, as it were. But they are also "well advanced in years" and childless. And God chose them to bear a son in whom He would put the spirit of the prophet Elijah and whom He would deploy as the forerunner to the Messiah.

The angel who appeared to Zechariah told him, "He will be a joy and delight to you..."

This son to be born is to bear the name John. We know him in Scripture as John the baptist. Not the Southern Baptist or American Baptist, but more accurately John the baptizer. His birth will be as miraculous as Jesus's birth, since they are so old and Elizabeth is barren. His birth will be a thing of joy for this faithful couple. And he will prepare the way for Jesus.

Zechariah asks the angel how this can be, and the doubt in his question leads the angel to pronounce a consequence on his doubt.

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:19-20 NIV)

So Zechariah is struck mute and Elizabeth becomes pregnant, just as Gabriel says. All the tears of years of infertility become tears of joy for Elizabeth and her husband. And then six months later, their relative, Mary, visits in her early pregnancy with Jesus.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” (Luke 1:41-45 NIV)

In the presence of Jesus, still unborn, the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth and her unborn son leaps for joy in her womb. Elizabeth finds a deeper joy in Jesus than even the joy she has in her own pregnancy.

Finally, John is born and Zechariah's voice is unmuted. Most all of us can relate to the joy that fills the room at the birth of a baby. It is joy and happiness and wonder and hope all wrapped up into one. In just a short time, Jesus will be born and angels will announce to shepherds "...good news that will cause great joy for all the people." (Luke 2:10 NIV)

The births of John and Jesus are momentous. God is moving to culminate centuries of interaction with His covenant people, Israel, to not only reveal Himself to his creation, but to redeem humanity from sin and death. And the birth of Jesus in our hearts by faith is the greatest source of joy any human being can experience.

This world can be frustrating and harsh and crushing at times. It can be difficult to find joy because we are so used to looking for happiness that is related to our circumstances. The diagnosis is a devastating illness or the economy results in losing a job, and joy can seem a million miles away. Some of us experience the Christmas season with deep sadness tied to the winter doldrums or the absence of a loved one who died at the Christmas dinner table or chronic pain or a battle with cancer. The sadness and grief are real.

How can we find joy in the midst of the harsh realities of life? By turning our hearts away from the circumstances and fixing our attention on our Savior. We have the promises and the hope that one day, all the pain and suffering and injustice will be wiped away when the Kingdom of God is consummated at Jesus' return. We are not promised eternal suffering, but eternal life. And even in this life God gives us His presence and peace in the midst of suffering.

How can we find joy in the midst of the harsh realities of life? By experiencing the deep joy of blessing someone else. By a loving act of defiance of the suffering that looks like kindness and sacrifice for another person. In making ourselves available to be a blessing to others God gives us the same grace He gave Zechariah and Elizabeth to participate in something much bigger than ourselves and our own problems. Joy comes in making a difference in the lives of others.

How can we find joy in the midst of the harsh realities of life? By joining the fellowship of other believers and experiencing the love of community. One simple way to do that today, if you are reading this and live near Concord, North Carolina, is to join Grace Church for worship at 10:00 am and for our "Ordinary Nativity" event at 5:30 pm. Come join us and see if God blesses you with the love of His people and the joy of worship.

How can we find joy in the midst of the harsh realities of life?

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace



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