Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 2:1-11
STORY: “Finders keepers.”
My dad had this policy at home – that if you left money around it was his. A kind of finders keepers thing.
I quite like it. People leave all kinds of things around here.
I think I’m going to be the “finders keepers” guy.
Take this little white box for example. It turned up on my birthday. Must be mine. Inside is this amazing mug.
I need a new coffee mug here at work. And it’s got some writing on it. Bible things which fit into the theme for the day and that pink candle which represents joy. It says “The joy of the Lord is my strength” from Nehemiah 8. What joy to find such a treasure.
It reminds me of the parable in Matthew 13 – about the man who found treasure hidden in a field – who hid the treasure and went and sold ALL HE HAD to buy that field. Jesus says of that man “in his joy he went…” The people I witnessed in Greece who had come to faith in Jesus – those refugees – you can imagine their joy too. It’s not about Greece – its about the GOSPEL – the good news of great joy changing lives.
(Hopefully the owner of the mug will claim it! Better not leave things lying around here in the future!)
So let’s talk about joy today.
So how joyful will your Christmas be?
And what is the right word to describe Christmas anyway?
If you say Happy Christmas, then what do you say for New Year?
Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year sounds strange.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year sounds sensible. And you do want some merriment after all. No one wants to be like Ebenezer Scrooge.
This 1984 version has George C Scott as Scrooge. Here he is at his worst: I mean Scrooge, not George C Scott!
Not a Merry person is he. It takes some scary visits from ghosts to change Scrooge.
But what about us?
The answer lies in having Jesus at the centre. In our hearts?
Yes, in that our hearts are the seat of our emotions. Perhaps the centre of our wills too? We are certainly told to love the Lord our God with all our heart at least.
Love and peace which are represented by the first two advent candles are broad concepts with many associated ideas that may or may not be based in spirituality.
Joy on the other hand seems a bit more focused.
In Sunday School we sang songs like ‘Joy Joy Joy with joy my heart is singing” and it seemed criminal not to clap as part of the song’s celebration.
Like “I am H A P P Y”. You can’t really sing it and be miserable.
Singing, by the way, does improve your mood and generate good brain chemicals.
Research indicates that people feel great after singing together probably from endorphins (a pleasure hormone) or oxytocin, another hormone. They’ve found that GROUP singing decreases depression and feelings of loneliness.
So it is a good thing to sing! Join a choir! And positive songs area probably more helpful.
The Sunday School songs we sang as kids are about one aspect of joy.
Joy joy joy with joy my heart is singing goes on to say joy joy joy, his love to me is known. My sins are all forgiven, I’m on my way to heaven, my heart is bubbling over with his joy joy joy.
The New Testament scholar Tom Wright rightly asks the question – what about what happens in the meantime – between this celebration of forgiveness of sins and going to heaven?
The Bible does not just talk about salvation as our destination at the end of life.
It has much to say about how we live in the meantime. It has rich pictures of what joy is in a broader sense.
It involves situations, people, relationships, and especially the work of the Holy Spirit.
For example in Paul’s writings:
- For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:7);
- May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13).
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22 – 23).
Through forgiveness of sins by the cross and the work of the Spirit we have access to God – Paul in Ephesians 2 writes about the consequences of the cross: Eph 2:17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
The in-between time if you are a person who thinks of salvation as being qualified to go to heaven – is actually the real relational stuff now.
There is JOY in this relationship with God NOW through the work of the Holy Spirit who makes God real to us as Paul says to the Roman readers: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (ch 15)
JOY IS ALSO SEEN WHERE PEOPLE REACH THEIR POTENTIAL IN CHRIST
Writing about the Thessalonians – in the earliest of his letters to the one church that gets things right he says:
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
Seeing people reach their full potential in Christ IN COMMUNITY brings joy to Paul – and to me. And to others.
SO WE HAVE JOY IN US THROUGH GOD’S POWER – AND JOY IN US WHEN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES REFLECT JESUS FULLY
If we have this joy from the Spirit and are a source of joy because of changed lives, people may be joyful when we come into a room rather than when we leave it! We talk about this church being a lighthouse for people. The fact is we are the church wherever we go -our joy and peace and hope should shine.
So when we hear the message of the angels, joy is right up there as a key sign of the coming of Messiah Jesus: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10).
This news of Te Harinui.
They needed it back then – because like all religious groups, you can get so fixated on how you do things – your systems and rules – that you lose the point of why you are there.
When Jesus came his people rejected him (John 1:12) – the very people who had both the law and the prophets available to them.
For example, talking to the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection (remember their trick question about the lady who’s husband died and she married the brother – who also died… married the whole lot of them the poor woman…) Jesus says:
Mat 22:29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
And of course to the teachers of the law – well they hardly brought joy into peoples’ lives. So Jesus says to them:
Luke 11:46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
“good news of great joy” was needed.
The religious leaders didn’t bring joy. The Roman occupiers didn’t either.
Jesus’ way of bringing Joy confounded them of course. On the cross. Rather than the obvious hope they had of a Messiah who would defeat their oppressive Roman occupiers.
So to go back to my story of finders keepers at the beginning – and the lovely cup I found here at church.
The writing of the cup reminds us that this joy is not the same as a Merry Christmas or a Happy new year. The joy of the LORD is our strength!
So we end with Paul’s injunction – his command that we be joyful in Philippians 4:
Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Php 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This joy is in the Lord- in the relationship – not in our circumstances – and the peace of God comes along as part of the package.
That is good news of great joy for all of us.
Have you found it? If you haven’t don’t delay – and ask for help to do so.
May the joy of the Lord be your strength. Amen.
2 Corinthians 8:1-7
There are at least three conversions in the Christian faith and experience.
Here they are.
1. Conversion of the heart.
The powerful reading from the Old Testament today is clear:
Deu 6:5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deu 6:6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
New hearts – changed and softened hearts, come up through the scriptures.For example here are some of these passages:
Jer_24:7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
Jer_29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Eze_11:19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
Rom_10:8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: Rom_10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Eph_1:18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
Eph_5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Mar_12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Mar_12:33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Luk_6:45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Acts_2:37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
We need our hearts changed!
2. Conversion of the mind
A well known passage from Paul us this one:
Rom_12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I loved the reminder at Alpha this week – from St Anselm – “I believe in order to understand.” Reformed tradition has often focussed on the mind first.
The Creeds begin with “I believe…” Not “I am passionate about” or “I love”…
And the Creed has a list of intellectual propositions:
- Who God is (Father, Son Holy Spirit)
- What he did (incarnation, death, resurrection, Ascension)
- When he will come again
- What he will do (judge)
- Where we make sure that people understand these teachings (the church)
Those same passages about the heart also include the transformation of our minds, and our engaging of our thoughts and reasoning in our love and service of God.
Mat_22:37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
Rom_8:6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; Rom_8:7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.
The mind, not just the heart, is to be transformed by the Spirit.
Interestingly there is a third conversion to consider:
- The conversion of the purse, or wallet.
Greg Laurie writes this about our third reading 2 Corinthians 8:7 – about giving. here is the main verse: 2 Co 8:7 But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
The story is told of Sam Houston, hero of Texas history, who gave his life to the Lord in the later years of life and asked to be baptized. He was taken down to a little country stream, and the pastor said, “General Houston, you should take your glasses off because I am going to immerse you in water.” There also were some papers in General Houston’s pocket, so he took those out as well.
Then, just as he was getting ready to go into the water, the pastor noticed that General Houston still had his wallet in his pants. He said, “Well, General, you might want to take that wallet out of your pants. It is going to get wet.”
Houston responded, “If there is any part of me that needs baptizing, it is my wallet.” So Houston was baptized, wallet and all.
Maybe some of us need our wallet or cheque book or credit cards baptized. As Martin Luther said, “There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind, and the purse.”
The Bible speaks a lot about money. Greatest hot topic. You can’t avoid it.
- How’s your heart?
- What is your mind focussed on?
- And is God and his kingdom at the top of your list when you open your purse? Or log on your internet bank account, or get out your cheque book?
The Epistle reading (letters) about the church in Macedonia is one of many passages about giving.
Paul admonishes them to “excel in the this grace of giving” (verse 8)
What does grace mean? Gift! Excel in the gift of giving.
Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. . . . For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).
The Gospel of Luke continues in chapter 11 – reminding us that God is Father – with all the best connotations of that word and role for us as his children:
Luk 11:1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luk 11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.
The best is yet to come from this generous giving God – after whom we model our lives. We take after him!
Luk 11:9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Luk 11:10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Luk 11:11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Luk 11:12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
Luk 11:13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The best gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit – is given by this Father. The gift of his presence and power to make a difference in the world.
The first chapter of Acts is worth hearing again: Act 1:4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Act 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Act 1:7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. Act 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Are you fully converted?
Heart, mind, wallet – a life for the Father, the Kingdom, and the Good news!