“The Promise of Joy”
Good morning, we are in the middle of our advent series where we are focusing on the promises of the advent themes. We have been discovering the many promises of God that are fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. The Advent season is when we celebrate all that is available to us through Jesus, using the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love.
The first week, we discovered that God’s promised hope came in the form of a person. Jesus meets our deepest longings and is the hope for our present and our future. 
The second week we looked at the promise of peace that was given to the lowly shepherds. There would be a new government that would come, and it would bring peace to the world. 
Today we are taking a look at the third theme of Advent: joy.
Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. I started listening to Christmas music a couple of weeks ago. The Chamber of Commerce has created a quintessential winter magic with lit up evergreens along Main Street. Following Thanksgiving they organized the Christmas Parade which was festive, especially with the dusting of white snow to make it really seem like Christmas. I love the smell of evergreen in our living room now that our tree is up. I look forward to Lydia and Emily coming home to hang out for a while and liven up the house. But what I love most is giving gifts to others. I know many people look forward to opening presents and seeing what is under the tree for them, but it has always brought me more joy to see others open gifts that I have wrapped up, and laid under the tree. I find it difficult to wait for people to open their gifts, especially that person who has to find where the tape is and slowly peel it back so as not to rip the paper, as if the wrapping paper is as significant as the gift. The joy is in what is inside!
When someone finds joy in something, it is hard to hide it. The things that bring you joy are the things that you want to share with the world. It is just in our nature to want others to share that happiness with us. How many grandparents can’t wait to share the photo of their newest joy, the grandbaby, or great grandbaby that was recently born. It is no wonder then that we would find that in Scripture, that God is eager to share the joy of Christ’s birth, even before it was time for Him to arrive. The incarnation, which is Jesus’ birth or God coming to earth as a human, is the greatest gift that has ever been given. You can almost sense God’s excitement for the hope, peace, joy, and the love that would come through His arrival. 
Isaiah 40:3–5.
Thunder in the desert!
    “Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth,
    a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys,
    level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts,
    clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine
    and everyone will see it.
    Yes. Just as God has said.”
God promises that there will be a time of preparation before Christ’s birth. There will be a straightening and a leveling that will take place, ensuring that the glory of God in Jesus would be made available to all people. When I read these verses, I can sense the joy that God has to share with the world that what was once broken by sin will be made right. The truth is that preparation is key to fully enjoying any great event.
Every year, after Thanksgiving, we begin decorating our house for Christmas. With just Val and I it is taking longer this year, but there is something about putting the lights in the windows, wrapping the lit garland around the banister going down the stairs and decorating the tree that is joyful in itself.
The football games playing on the television, accompany the many trips up and down the attic stairs to bring down the myriad of bins filled with ornaments. Many that Lydia and Emily created themselves over the years. I, for one, think the opening of the bins and preparing the house for Christmas morning brings me as much joy as the day itself.
The promise in the Old Testament is that the people of God will see this preparation take place. God does not want them to miss it because it is the signpost for what is to come. Any barriers that are in the way of experiencing the joy of the miraculous birth are removed. There is no desert, no mountain, no valley, no rugged place that will stand in the way of the revelation of Christ.
The book of Isaiah speaks to this coming gift. There is a prophetic word given about someone who would come to prepare the world for the arrival of Jesus. This passage was written hundreds of years before its fulfillment, and it is one of God’s joyful promises about the future.
We come across a character in the New Testament named Zechariah. He is a priest who serves in the temple of God. We find him in the temple burning incense in worship while people are praying outside. While Zechariah was serving in the temple, suddenly an angel of the Lord was speaking to him. He was startled and gripped with fear. But, like any interactions with angels in the Christmas stories, the first word given to him is not to be afraid. Apparently, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, had been praying for a child, and their prayers were being answered. 
They would give birth to a son, and they were to name him John. The angel says, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” This child will be filled with the Spirit of God, and he will be kept free from wine and fermented drink because he would take a Nazarite vow to serve God all of his life. These vows kept him from drinking alcohol, cutting his hair, or coming in contact with dead bodies.
Clearly, this boy was special, and God had plans to use him to bring joy to his family and to the entire world by the way he would live. Because of his life, there would be many who would be brought back to the Lord. Because of his life, he would prepare people for something wonderful that was about to happen.
You can see the connections between the Isaiah passage and this story in Luke. This baby boy will prepare the people for the arrival of the Lord. John will be a joy to his family and a joy to the world, because he will be the one calling in the wilderness and making a way for the arrival of the Son of God.
One of the greatest joys of the Christmas season is the opportunity we are given to prepare the way for others to see Jesus for who He really is. The most joyful people during this time of year should be the ones who have experienced the hope and peace of God in their lives because of their trust in Jesus. 
The way we speak to others, the way we serve others, the way we treat others are all a means of preparing the way for others to meet Jesus.
This joy is a commodity that is in short supply in our world. There are people all around us who are miserable. They are in over their heads with their involvement in sin. They are heartbroken over the pain of life. They are hopeless in the face of suffering. Now is the time for sharing the joy of Jesus with the world. Be sure not to confuse the definition of joy. Joy is not necessarily synonymous with happiness. The feeling of joy goes deeper than happiness. It’s a confidence that in spite of the negative circumstances that may be around you, in the big scheme of things you are content. 
If the world doesn’t see joy from those of us who call ourselves Christians, where can they see it?
What is one way you can bring joy to those around you? As you consider this question I encourage you to think outside the box. You may have to sacrifice in order to do so.
How can your life be a beacon of hope because of your love for Jesus? This was John’s call for his life, and it should be ours as well.
Let’s continue reading in Luke, chapter one regarding Zechariah and his encounter with the angel Gabriel, verses 18-20.
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
“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.”
Zechariah’s response to the message given to him by the angel comes with a consequence. Zechariah was skeptical of the good news given by the angel. He and his wife, Elizabeth, we0re old, and the prospect of having a child was slim. Because of his unbelief and distrust, he was silenced and unable to speak until the time came for John to be born. Even though the good news of a God who comes to us in the flesh to rescue us may seem too good to be true, our response should be marked by deep faith and joy. When we trust God, we can share it with others.
Fast-forwarding to the birth of this promised boy, all the family had gathered together to share in this miraculous birth. A point of note: Elizabeth is actually a cousin of a woman named Mary. That Mary happens to be a woman who was also pregnant and would soon give birth to a boy, and that boy would be named Jesus. Jesus and John were cousins, and from the time they were in their mothers’ wombs, they were connected by the Spirit of God. 
So, the time had come for John to be born into the world. Luke 1:57-66,
“When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.”
When the baby was born, there was a familiar discussion that took place. What to name the new baby? Everyone expected them to name him after his father, Zechariah; however, both Elizabeth and Zechariah agreed that his name was to be “John,” just as the angel foretold.
John’s name in the Greek means “graced by God” or “Jehovah has been gracious.” This name that was given to the boy speaks volumes to the joy that surrounded his life. God had been gracious to Elizabeth and Zechariah by giving them a son. God had also been gracious because through John’s life, the world would be prepared for the coming of the Messiah and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The relatives all celebrated John’s birth, and they shared in Elizabeth’s joy. John’s life was surrounded by joy, and that joy was in the Lord’s work among them. Zechariah was still unable to speak, but he wrote the name “John” in agreement. And upon his obedient pronouncement of the boy’s name, he was once again able to speak. His first response was rejoicing, and he praised God.
When the word spread about John’s amazing birth and Zechariah’s recovered speech, everyone over the Judean countryside was in awe and wondered what amazing things John would do with his life.
The grace that covered John’s birth and life is the same grace that is given to us free of charge. We could never earn God’s grace. It is a gift that is given to us through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. 
We should be people marked by joy because of this grace given to us.
Are you someone who displays joy? Are you someone who knows the joys that come at Christmas? What is one way you can display the good news of this season by the way you live your life?
We take time today to remember this joy and this gift through the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper. God’s gift of Jesus is reason for deep joy. Let us remember this gift by remembering the symbols Jesus gave His disciples during their last supper. 
Let’s pray, God, today we take time to remember the joy that comes through the birth of your son. We cannot find fulfillment in any other person or thing. This Christmas may we rejoice in the good news of a God who came near to us in the form of a baby and who died for us to give us grace. AMEN.
Sing “Joy to the World.”
Benediction: Let’s decide today to live with joy as a testimony to the good news of Christ’s birth.