JOY

I have
these three letters J – O – Y that I have used to decorate my home at Christmas
time for the last few years.  They are
about 2 ½ feet high and more than a foot wide.
I painted them a shiny burgundy color to match my decor.  The first year I had them we lived in
Colorado and I stood them up on my mantel above the fire place.  Last year when we started to decorate for
Christmas at our home in Louisiana, I realized I didn’t have a good place to
display them inside.  I was determined to
get them up, because they are an amazing reminder to me of the real meaning of
Christmas.  My sweet husband and father
rigged a billboard out of the side of a bookcase that was broken during our
move and hung it with twine on the side of the house near the front door.  Then, I gave the letters a fresh coat of
outdoor paint and velcroed them to the board.
 Why Velcro you ask? Well, who
knows where we will be living this time next year or how I will be forced to
display them!  

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I have
shared my JOY with friends, and even loaned it to one of them for her Christmas
display while her husband was home for R&R that year.  It is proudly positioned for people who drive
by to see and those who visit generally have questions about how it is hung,
what it’s made of and what kind of paint I used.  It is currently my cover photo on Facebook
and once I actually pinned a picture of it to Pinterest as a decorating
idea.  I was in a mild state of panic one
year when I couldn’t find my JOY.  It is
so apparent how much these letters mean to me that last year one of my
wonderful neighbors covered my JOY in plastic to protect it from a rainstorm. 

Keeping
with the theme, our Christmas card this year says, “Joy to the world the Lord
is come!”  I’m sure you’ve heard the song
before. First published in 1719, it is one of the most popular Christmas hymns
of all time.  But did you know that the
English hymn writer, Isaac Watts, originally intended the lyrics to glorify the
second coming of Christ, not His virgin birth we usually associate it with this
time of year?

 

 

Even
before Jesus came to earth, the bible spoke of the Joy of the Lord.  It is no surprise that this kind of joy
brought the people of the old testament strength or that the people of Judah
were reminded that they should celebrate His love and forgiveness.

 

After
having been in exile in Babylon for 70 years, in 538 BC the Jews began
returning to Judea to rebuild the temple. 
One of the great leaders of the bible, Nehemiah brought two groups of
Israelites from Babylon to return to Jerusalem with the mission of rebuilding
the wall of protection around the city. 
However, he was more concerned with the restoration of the people’s
spiritual protection than the symbolic physical protection the wall provided
them.  To this end, he collaborated with
Ezra to teach them the Law as it was originally written.  In 443 B.C., the month after construction on
the wall was completed, Ezra read the Law to the people and upon hearing it,
they wept because of the conviction they felt over their own sin.  But Nehemiah wanted them to take away another
message; one of God’s continual restoration, that God loved them no matter what
their sin and desired to have a meaningful relationship with them.  Ezra, Nehemiah and the priests whose
teachings caused the people to lament over their inability to keep the law
encouraged them saying, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send
portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our
Lord.  Do not sorrow, for the joy of the
Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10.  Despite
the sin that caused God to exact punishment upon them in the form of a
Babylonian conquering, God had allowed them to return to Jerusalem and blessed
them by making a way for the rebuilding of their great city.

 

We
have reason to celebrate because of God’s unfailing love for us, too.  No matter how we disobey His commands, we
always have the opportunity to repent, to turn away from that sin, and rebuild
our relationship with Him.  It is that
relationship that provides the eternal protection that no wall of stones can.

About 450 years after Nehemiah encouraged the people of
Jerusalem to embrace the Joy of the Lord, others found this joy in different
way.  Matthew 2:10 says, “When they saw
the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”   This star was the star that pointed the wise
men to the place of our Savior’s birth that very first Christmas.  They first looked for Jesus, the King of the
Jews, in Jerusalem, but were disheartened when they were unable to find Him
there.  They turned to Herod who gathered
all the priests and scribes to determine from the scriptures where the Christ
was to be born.  Herod, desiring to kill
this “King of the Jews” because he was threatened by the presence of a new
ruler in his domain, asked the wise men to search for Jesus in Bethlehem and
report back his location.  When the wise
men left Herod, they once again saw the star and followed it to the Christ
Child. 

 

 

These verses from Matthew 2:1-12 provide an interesting
parallel for us today.  Religious leaders
who had fallen away from God’s plan, were leading others astray and would
ultimately crucify the Savior, still found truth in the scriptures.  Political leaders who had no interest in
actually following Jesus claimed to be seeking to worship Him.  Wise men found joy and encouragement in a
star that led them into the presence of our Savior.  Are you being led astray by people who claim
to know God, but aren’t preaching His Truth? 
Are you prepared to accept Jesus as your King even if it means a loss of
self or position?  Are you seeking to
enter into His presence through true worship? 
No matter what others say or do, truth is The Word of God, worship is
the way to seek Him and true JOY is found in the presence of the Lord.

 

 

According
to Jewish Law, only the high priest was able to come into the presence of the
Lord in the Most Holy Place and then only once a year was he allowed behind the
curtain where the tabernacle of the Lord was kept.  This was the day of atonement and he
sprinkled the blood of a bull and a goat in order to symbolically cleanse the
people of their sins.  But they weren’t
truly clean as evidenced by the fact that only the High Priest could ever enter
into the Most Holy.  But now for us,
Jesus has cleansed us from our sin, every sin, those committed in the past,
those we commit daily, and even those we will commit in the future.  On the day of His death, “Jesus cried out
again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn
in two from top to bottom.” Matthew 27:50-51. 
By His death, each of us have gained access to the Most Holy place and been
granted permission to come into the presence of God.  David’s words point to the path of eternal
life and confirm where we will find true JOY, when he wrote, “You will show me
the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are
pleasures forevermore.”  Psalm 16:11.

 

 

With
the death and resurrection of Jesus we can enter into the presence of God at
any time we choose.  This is where we
find fullness of JOY, this is where He will show us the paths of life, the ways
we should walk, how we should act and what we should and shouldn’t do.  For our salvation, we must accept and believe
in Jesus as our Savior, but to enter into His presence we must repent of our
sins in our hearts and show a willingness to be molded by Him in order to
receive His fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

 

 

I recently read an article entitled Private
Worship: The Key to Joy
by Nancy Missler which concludes with the following
thought:

 

 

“Please bear in
mind, since we are not under the Law, we can, in fact, worship the Lord as
little or as much as we like.  It doesn’t
change our salvation.

 

 

What is affected
by our lack of daily encounters with the living God, is our personal
relationship with Him – the intimacy we might enjoy, the joy we might
experience as a result of His touch, the insights and revelations He might
extend, the godly strength we might receive enabling us to get through our
trials quicker and finally, the ability we might have in order to reflect His
image, His Love and not our own for the rest of the day.  Truly, worship is the most important thing a
Christian can learn to do!”

 

 

The author also says earlier in the article that “True
worship, then is contingent upon our offering ourselves as a living sacrifice
and God cleansing our flesh and spirit. 
In other words, our heart condition matters more in worship than our
voice, our good intentions or our actions. 
Without a cleansed heart, we simply cannot enter His presence or
worship.”  Psalm 24:3-5 says, “Who may
ascend into the hill of the Lord?  Or who
may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has
not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully.  He shall receive blessing from the Lord and
righteousness from the God of his salvation.” 
How is the condition of your heart? Are you prepared to enter into the
presence of the Lord and worship Him? Or are you harboring sin where He wishes
to place JOY?

 

 

Before he was betrayed, Jesus gives his disciples some
encouraging words in John 16:20 “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will
weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but
your sorrow will be turned into joy.”  He
goes on in John 16:22 to tell them, “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will
see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from
you.”  So, while much of the world
rejoiced at the death of Jesus, His followers were sorrowful, but at His
resurrection, their weeping was turned to JOY. 
This is the Joy we will celebrate in a few short months at Easter.  The world, in an attempt to hold on to the
idea that they were right in killing Jesus, attempts to explain away His
resurrection, to diminish His deity and to denounce His teachings.  Much of the world seeks to find their joy in
the things of this world, but followers of Jesus can be certain of their
eternal JOY because of His death and resurrection.  We can claim that fullness of JOY in the
presence of the Lord when we approach Him with clean hands and a pure heart,
not deceiving ourselves but believing the truth of His Word. 

 

 

We may
find happiness in the world, but real JOY comes from a right relationship with
the Lord.  We can lose our happiness in
this world and still have the JOY of the Lord. 
JOY is independent of the harried hustle and bustle of the season.  JOY cannot be found in giving or receiving the
perfect gift.  JOY does not come from
running out for that one last thing you just can’t live without.  JOY is not encountered in a Pinterest-worthy
meal, the perfect outfit for pictures or a desert your family will rave about
for years to come.  JOY does not come by
hosting or attending Holiday parties every night of the week.  The JOY I seek is not only that which came to
us when Mary and Joseph welcomed the Son of God to this world, but also the JOY
that will come to those who believe in Him at His return.  The JOY of the Lord can exist within us
despite our circumstances here on earth. 
We may have sorrow here, but no one and nothing can take away our JOY.
 In order to experience this kind
of JOY we must be willing to separate ourselves from our sin, even if it is
pleasurable, or makes us feel secure or loved or important, even if others tell
us it’s alright.  Sin separates us from
God and it is only in His presence that we can find His JOY!

 

 

I have found this kind of JOY in private and corporate
worship, but only after careful evaluation of my life.  Unconfessed sin is a stumbling block that
keeps us from entering in true worship in the presence of our God.  We cannot experience His JOY without first
accepting His forgiveness, which requires us to admit we need it.  Assuming that we don’t need forgiveness
because we have blinded ourselves to our own sin or to the truth in His Word,
yet still thinking we will be allowed into His presence will only lead to
disappointment.  Proverbs 10:28 says,
“The hope of the righteous brings JOY, but the expectation of the wicked
will perish.”  
This
Christmas, I challenge you to prepare your whole heart for the coming of Christ
not just as a baby in a manger, but for His triumphant second coming as the
King of Kings by cleansing your hands, purifying your heart and living a life
worthy of the forgiveness won for us on the cross.

 

 

My JOY letters remind me of all this.  That true JOY is found in the presence of the
Lord.  That JOY is not changed by any
circumstance I am facing on this earth. 
That in order to experience this JOY, I must approach God with clean
hands and a pure heart, washed in the blood of the Lamb, living a life worthy
of that repentance (Matthew 3:8).  That
if my thoughts and actions are in line with God’s desires, I can have JOY no
matter what the world says.

 

 

This week, we celebrate our JOY in the coming of our Lord
to earth to show us His way.  At Easter
we celebrate our JOY in the death and resurrection of our Lord to make a way for
us to enter into the presence of God, clothed in His righteousness.  At Jesus’ triumphant return, we who have
lived for Him will see the eternal fullness of our JOY as he gathers us to
Him.  Each day in between we can
experience His JOY by not allowing sin and sorrow to take hold in our lives,
but instead receiving His blessings and living in His truth and grace,
preparing room in our hearts for Him. 

 

 

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