“Where Do You Find Joy?”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church
December 11, 2022
Luke 1:39-56 NRSV
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Where do you find joy? How do you find joy? What is joy, really? We always feel this pressure to be joyful at Christmas don’t we? But it isn’t always easy. The other pressures seem to get in the way of that. Pressure to get just the right gifts for everyone, but don’t spend too much! Pressure to cook the perfect Christmas meal, but don’t eat too much! Pressure to go to all those parties, but don’t drink too much! It’s like a seesaw, up and down. Of course, the mental health folks remind us that suicide hotlines and depression are at their highest at this time of year. And we sing songs that it’s “hap-happiest season of all,” in “the most wonderful time of the year!” Finding joy may be as elusive as catching sight of Santa on Christmas Eve.
Searching for joy when we have many reasons for tears in our lives can be hard. Recognizing it when it comes to us unexpectedly can be a challenge too. But take heart! Look back at that first Christmas and you’ve got to figure that there certainly challenges to joy there too. One writer said, “Joseph, when he wasn’t fit-to-be-tied over his betrothed’s ‘situation,’ certainly shed a few tears. Mary’s parents probably mourned their daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy. If Mary shared her vision of the angel, mom and dad cried some more, concerned that Mary was more than just ‘a little dreamy.’ Mary, no doubt, did her share of weeping. The birth of Christ, about whom the angels sang with joy, was preceded by a rainstorm of tears.” And we don’t even have to discuss that old fox King Herod who, when he heard about the Messiah’s birth didn’t just shed tears, he set out with murder in his eyes.
Mary goes out to a distant country to be with her distant cousin Elizabeth. She probably was sent there to hide the scandal of her pregnancy. When she arrives Elizabeth feels her own baby “leap with joy” inside her. Like Sarah and Abraham before her, Elizabeth was pregnant late in life, another revelation of God’s surprising joy. Mary arrives with an unexpected pregnancy too early in life. Yet, God is revealed to each of them in these unexpected, surprising ways that brought joy.
Maybe it isn’t so much a matter of “finding” joy as having it revealed to us. Joy seems to have an element of surprise to it. Even that place where deep purpose and deep meaning may be something that occurs to us as a surprise. I think as people of faith we go “looking for God.” We think it our job to “find God.” But much more often the Bible shares ways God is suddenly revealed to us in unexpected moments in unexpected ways.
Tony Robinson says he had a “hearing aid revelation” last spring. He suspected that their cat, George, had either eaten his hearing aid, or flicked it across the room somewhere with a playful paw. He admits the thought of the cat eating his hearing aid seemed ridiculous, but who knows? Could she really have eaten a hearing aid?” He even “pried open her mouth searching for telltale plastic parts.” No sign of it.
So there he was down on hands and knees, scouring every inch of the wood floor. He “overturned cushions, moved chairs, upended the couch. Still no sign of it. He gave up. All the hassle and expense of replacing it loomed. Then something said, ‘Under the rug.’” He lifted the corner of the rug and there it was, no worse for wear, even the tiny battery still in place. He said, “I rejoiced, yes I did.” And he says he “pondered this odd experience of finding what was lost.” There was no finding it when he was all agitated, looking anxiously, frantically. When he gave up, sort of surrendered, then a word, as it were, came to him: “Look under the rug.” And there it was. It felt more like it had been revealed to him than that he found it.
He says his experience of wanting to find God is a lot like this. He says he almost never ‘finds’ God, no matter how anxiously he may be searching. He says, “it is almost always that God finds me, surprises me in some weird way, was there all along, and then winks, as if to say, ‘gotcha.’”
As much as we talk about joy at this time of year, I think we have to remember it isn’t the same as what we might call “happiness.” Lillian Daniel says we talk a lot about happiness, but what she would rather hear more about joy: “Don’t promise me that I will be happy. Tell me instead about joy. Happiness is a feeling.” It comes from inner and outer circumstances. But joy speaks to more than feelings or circumstances. She shared a definition of joy from a Harvard psychology professor who said this: “joy is the intersection of deep pleasure and deep meaning.”
If joy comes when deep meaning meets deep pleasure in life, then we can know joy even in difficult or unhappy situations. One example is when we choose to make a sacrifice for someone else’s good. Joy can come even when happiness seems less possible if we see it as serving a higher good, fulfilling Christ’s purpose. That is what gives us a life of deeper meaning.
The teacher finds joy in a student discovering new knowledge. The musician finds joy in hitting a chord or a note or a new lyric just right. It’s about more than a job or a hobby, it is about who you are. It is in knowing who we are that we find a way to know deeper purpose and therefore deeper meaning. Jesus came to invite us to know that source of joy, to know who we really are. That goes beyond our profession, our job, or our hobby or side – passion. It is deep in the root of who we were meant to be.
The call of Christ at Christmas is to know that at our very root we are God’s beloved. We are made by God, to be like God to the best degree we can. Which means to love and to give and to bless as God does. We are given this love not to hold but to give to others and it is in that giving that we will discover the truest and deepest meaning and purpose for our lives. This is the miracle that Christmas invites us to experience. It in not unlike the miracle and mystery of a baby being born, because that experience is often a startling, unexpected flood of joy – whatever the circumstances or fears or worries or even the tears of the moment.
Christ comes to us today. To know his presence is to know the fulfillment of that promise of great joy. The nature of that great joy is new meaning and purpose in life. He comes to call us away from letting circumstances dictate our lives, to choosing Christ’s purposes to guide our lives and choices. We are called from settling for passing happiness that only comes when things go right. Christ offers a joy that gives a different kind of pleasure, a different quality to our lives.
Maybe that is the key to finding joy at Christmas, and any other time. Maybe we have to stop giving in to the pressure of “getting into the ‘Christmas Spirit’,” or of “finding” it. Maybe go out and do something for someone else and in the doing discover the joy of God coming to you – Advent, joy, Christmas. Maybe the joy comes in giving ourselves to another in some way.
So go about that daily business. Focus and devote yourself to the things that really matter – that place where your heart finds deep meaning and a deep purpose. Give of yourself, because joy always comes with giving. Give, and bless, and love. Joy can surprise you when you discover that simply giving, giving of yourself, giving to help others, is a way to find deep meaning and deep purpose and then when you look up, ‘Voila,” JOY. Amen.