Message – Joy for a change

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

Todays reading is one that we know well. The angel announces God’s gift. Good news that will bring joy to all people! The gift is God’s Son Jesus, born into the world as a human being. He is a Saviour, though no one knows yet what that will involve.

What does this mean for us? What does this joy entail for us? What is joy? Firstly the word ‘joy’ appears nearly 200 times in the Bible – so it is really important!

Most people would equate joy with happiness. But happiness doesn’t bring joy, and joy isn’t the byproduct of happiness. Joy is something grander than happiness. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit: sometimes the pineapple is used to represent joy. And when we find joy it’s infused with comfort and wrapped in peace. Very tasty indeed. Joy is an attitude of the heart and spirit, often synonymous with but not limited to pursuing a Christian life. Joy is an action. Happiness is a feeling.

Joy cannot be hoarded, or kept quiet. It must be shared. There are many ways to share the joy that God has sparked in our hearts – I’ve already mentioned singing and gift giving. But there are many other ways. Actually there are many ways that are shown in the service today, and I thought I would focus on these for today. There is joy in entering this building. I pretty much always have feelings of joy when walking into the church building. And then it is quite wonderful to have someone welcoming us. So the stewards provide a joy as we walk in. Thanks to them all. We look into the church and one item that changes weekly are the flowers. Those flowers are given with joy. Ruth Weaver and now Kerstin Wallace have provided energy and grace in their role as the flower coordinators. I couldn’t speak today without bringing my friends – those Baptist women from 100 years ago – into my message. Because at a time when women were restricted in the things they could do as a member of an Australian Baptist congregation, they could always prepare flowers. In this place, for over 90 years, many different women and men have felt joy in growing flowers and preparing floral arrangements for the church.

There is joy in worshipping together – either here or through zoom. Being together is wonderful. I particularly think that there is joy through praying together.

Emily Hone wrote about her prayer group in 1894 (women in her congregation were praying out loud). She wrote:

No need now to warn us to not to make any engagement for Wednesday evening, there being nothing but laments if compelled to be absent, as we have had such blessed times of communion with our Lord; times of uplifting and joy that we could not exchange for any social pleasure.

I must admit that I feel that with respect to my own prayer group. I don’t want to miss my shared prayer time.

So through these things: singing, giving, stewardship, flower arranging, prayer: we find our joy in God. Our calling as Christians is to find that joy. Paul mentions this in Philippians 1: he wrote I plan to be around for a while, companion to you all as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues.

So for 2000 years, Christians have experienced the joy of God through Jesus, and shared with others. Joy is enhanced through connection. Often the connection is with other people, but it can also be with pets, creation, and creativity – especially cooking and art.

What a wonderful heritage we have gained as Christians.

But there is a problem inherent with joy. Because we know that the world is not all wonderful – not joyful. There are terrible injustices, and inequalities. If we are joyful, we are ignoring the suffering of others. There is guilt in our joy. How can we reconcile our joy in the Good News of God, our calling to be joyful, against the bad stuff happening in our world? I love the idea of being joyful, of having a faith that is so positive and so uplifting, that it changes my life. But I also feel that my joy is compromised because the world is not a joyful place. Maybe I’m looking at joy the wrong way.

As Christians we need to be aware of injustice, to react to inequality. To be God’s hands and feet on earth. I think our calling as Christians – our actions despite injustice – includes to bring joy. To share joy with others even in bad times. Even when we are not feeling joy. Many of you know that I am on the flower roster – it isn’t a natural activity for me. I have discussed my fear of flower arranging with another person on the flower roster (you know who you are) and we agree that it is a difficult task sometimes to put flowers together. And yet, we get joy from presenting flower arrangements, and we get joy from looking at each others’ flowers. Even if they are the lego flowers I used two weeks ago! Of course, there ended up being more joy in those lego flowers than I had expected. Which is perhaps something else about joy – it sometimes appears at the most unexpected times and places.

Joy can be experienced in difficult and in dark times. It’s possible to know God’s joy in spite of grief or uncertainty. Joy is present, in the moment. Every moment. Joy is constant. Now this doesn’t mean we are always happy. As I’ve said joy isn’t happiness. Giving joy means that sometimes there is a cost to us. Just like in a gift. The cost is not often financial – but it can be, of course. Sometimes the cost is as simple as putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone.

“Don’t be afraid, here’s the news that brings joy.” We need to work to bring that joy into the world. Actions that bring joy, they don’t always happen because people are always happy, or comfortable.

Philippians 2:2 speaks about making another person’s joy complete. We may know how to make members of our household joyful this Christmas – a new iPhone perhaps?  But that doesn’t make their joy complete. Complete joy is the knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ as our saviour. And our change in the world, complete joy, is discussing and sharing that knowledge with others.

Isaiah 55:12 says:

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

May we bring change to. the world with our joy. Joy for a change.