Finding Joy in the Midst of a Mess

On the weekend, we continued our Advent series by talking about joy. Because joy is something I think we all need and want. Joy is different than happiness, actually. While happiness is often based on our circumstances, joy can transcend our circumstances.
So, we began by looking at how we might find joy in the midst of our real lives. Because our real lives are sometimes difficult, especially around Christmas time. There can be financial strain, family drama and unmet expectations – all of which makes “the most wonderful time of the year” a little, well, not so wonderful.
What we discovered, as we examined Mary and Joseph’s life, is that their lives were full of mess, drama and difficulty when Jesus was born. First of all, Mary is with Joseph, even though they aren’t yet married. Most likely because of family drama. Then, they show up to Joseph’s ancestral hometown, but there is no room for them. No one seems to want to take in a very pregnant woman in their own hometown. So, all of this leads to some pretty obvious conclusions – Mary and Josephs’ life is not perfect, clean and put together. It’s a lot like ours – messy and occasionally hurtful.
Yet, it is into this reality that Jesus shows up. And, He brings joy to Mary and Joseph, as their first child is born. More than that, He draws in the shepherds as well. This might seem insignificant, but it’s hugely meaningful. Because when you have a child, you want to share that story and experience it with others. But, no family seems to show up, so God sends shepherds to share in the joy and celebration with Mary and Joseph.The Scriptures say that it impacts Mary deeply and she treasures it all.
So, from this, we pulled out the obvious, but necessary point – that with Jesus comes joy. One of the first things He does on earth is bring joy to His parents, and bring others together to share in this joy.

We then walked through how this applies to our lives. That, first and foremost, if we are in need of some joy, we should pray and ask for it. Jesus, Himself, says this in John 17 – that we can ask for joy. On His birth, Jesus demonstrates how He brings joy when He arrives. So, the first thing we should do is pray and wait and watch for Jesus to come with some joy.
The other thing we should be open to is that Jesus might want to send us out to bring joy to others. This is what we see when the shepherds come to meet with Jesus. So, what if that’s our calling this Christmas – to bring joy to others? To show up with cookies, a conversation or a connection? To show up and surprise others by bringing them joy?
So, we ended with a simple challenge – To pray and ask for joy, but also to listen and follow God if He sends you to bring joy to others. Because, as Christians, we are not only to experience the joy of Christmas and Jesus, but to spread it.
Teaching Notes
Passage: Luke 2:1-20
 
Big Idea: When Jesus shows up, He brings joy
Teaching Points:
  • All families are dysfunctional at some point
  • Jesus’ first act is to bring joy
  • Happiness is dependent on what is going on around us; joy is dependent on what is happening within us
  • Jesus brings in others to share in the joy
  • Pray and invite Jesus to show up
  • Giving joy spreads
  • Show up so someone else receives joy
  • Prayers coupled with action is always better
  • Joy is on its way, and we can find it and be part of it
Adult Discussion Questions:
1. What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new?
2. Do you agree with Andrew that all families are dysfunctional at some point? Why or why not?
3. Are you more likely to think of the story of Mary and Joseph as history or fable? Why?
4. When have you been filled with joy? Have you ever found joy amidst difficult situations?
5. How can you commit to asking Jesus to show up with joy in your life? How can you show up to bring joy into someone else’s life? What next steps do you need to take?
Challenge for the Week: Pray for Jesus to show up and show up so someone else receives joy

Advent and “A Christmas Story”

movieposterThis Sunday we looked at the movie A Christmas Story to give us a fresh perspective on the Christmas story. And we watched this clip of little Ralphie so deeply hoping for a Red-Rider BB Gun.

The point of the clip on Sunday was that in our day and age – we don’t hope like Ralphie does. We are so generally worried about “living in reality” that we reing in hope. We don’t place our hopes on getting this one thing.

But that’s not what we see actually in the life of Mary. She is given an amazing promise of God, something that seems not just unlikely but impossible. But Mary doesn’t let doubt in, she doesn’t temper her hope with “realism”, she doesn’t lower her expectations, but let’s her hope in God run wild. Listen to what she says in Luke 1:46-55:

Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”

Mary hopes completely in God. She lets her hope in a merciful and strong God run wild. She doesn’t temper her hope with realism, or pragmatism. She hopes against all odds, that God has moved and is working within her.

And I think this is something we need to learn at Christmas especially. We need to learn to hope because Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming and with him everything changes. So we need to learn to hope, we need to let our hope run wild. That was the main point of Sunday. To let our hope in Jesus run wild.

And like Ralphie so deeply desiring a BB Gun, I asked everone one question: What is it you really want for Christmas? What are you really hoping for? And we’re not talking about gifts or deep desires. Is it for a marriage or body to be healed? To finally find a spouse, or purpose? To have a child, or a have a relationship healed? What is it you really want for Christmas?

Because I think that Christmas is a time to let our hope out, to share with God what we need and place our trust in him. That’s what Mary does, and I think that’s what we should do as well. And if there is ever a time to hope, I believe it is now.

So why not today answer that question: what are you hoping for this Christmas? Why not share with Jesus and trust in him to act. Because I know we often think about, “what happens if I get let down?” Well I think Christmas is about asking, what if God shows up and comes through. Because that’s what he did way back when, when he entered the world. And I think he can do it today.

So what are you hoping for?

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: We need to learn to hope.

Teaching Points:

  • Advent is a time where we wait and prepare for Jesus.
  • We don’t hope all that much anymore.
  • We don’t get our hopes up, because it is easier, but not necessarily better.
  • We need to learn to hope recklessly.
  • As Christians we can truly hope.
  • What do you really want this year for Christmas?
  • The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it has established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild. G.K. Chesterton
  • I believe in Hope, capital H, because I believe in Jesus.
  • Hope is the act of taking the next step. Karl Barth

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What are some of your favorite Christmas movies? Would you say you’re someone who hopes – or keeps your hopes realistic? How come? What are you hoping for this year? Who are you hoping with that can support you as you watch and wait for God to move? What reasons do you have to hope in God? How has he been faithful to you in the past? How might he be faithful to you this advent?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Spend sometime talking with your kids about hope. If they write down what gifts they are hoping for, why not have them make another list. “Things I’m hoping for, or things we can pray for”. Have them make a list of things and then pray over those things, and bring those things to Jesus.

Challenge for the Week: Let your hope run wild.

Preparing for Jesus’ Yes

1430243_28387738On Sunday we looked at two Christmas stories. These two stories are very similar, both people receive amazing promises, have an encounter with an angel, and have some amazing desires met. The difference between the two stories is in the responses of the two people.

The first, Zechariah is promised to receive a special child from the Angel Gabriel. This is an amazing thing, and something he has been hoping for. But because his heart isn’t ready, he is unable to fully receive the promise. His response to Gabriel is “how will I know this will happen?”. He essentially asks, what more proof will there be that this promise will actually come to be? And Gabriel turns to him and essentially simply states, “The fact you are talking to an angel of God should be enough proof”. The point is that for Zechariah his initial response was a bit of reluctance, of hesitancy, of doubt.

The very next story though shows a bit of a different response. The angel Gabriel shows up to Mary and gives her a very similar promise. That she too would bear a son but that this son would be the Messiah. What an amazing promise! Her response though is very different from Zechariah’s, she says, “I am willing to accept whatever God wants”. Her response is willingness.

So we ended asking the question if God were to show up today – what would be your response to him? Would it be reluctance or acceptance? Would it be doubt or willingness?

I think this is an  important question to ask because I believe we’d like to be like Mary – responding with acceptance and willingness. The trouble is the longer we wait for God’s promises the more difficult it is to respond with Mary. We start to base our hopes on our expectations, rather than on God’s ability to do the impossible. We start to base our hopes on our reality, rather than God’s.

So we ended with this challenge on Sunday. Let’s prepare our hearts for God’s arrival. Jesus is coming; that’s what Advent is all about. So let’s prepare our hearts so that when he comes we can respond like Mary, with willingness and acceptance.

The only way to prepare our hearts to be able to be like Mary, I think, is to simply get closer to God. The closer we are to God the more likely we can respond rightly to God. So this week focus on getting closer to Jesus. Spend time with him in prayer, in conversation, in closeness and let that start to prepare your heart for his arrival. Advent is a time of preparation, so let’s prepare for Jesus because one thing is sure. He is coming, so let’s be ready.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea We need to have willing hearts

Take Aways…

  • Advent a time of waiting but also preparing.
  • We couch our expectations in our version of reality
  • Zechariah has based his life on what he thought is possible
  • We can be so unprepared in our hearts and minds, that we don’t even believe the promise and struggle to receive it.
  • In Zechariah’s response there is reluctance, in Mary’s there is willingness
  • What would be your response -willingness, or doubt?
  • We need to prepare our hearts to accept the impossible.
  • We need to have willing hearts.
  • Get close to God

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

What have you been waiting for? Would you say you are ready to receive it? What might be your response today to Jesus’ arrival in your life? How can you get closer to Jesus this week? What will you do this week?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: This week simply watch your kids. Give them something exciting, something great, and watch how easily they receive it. Kids have a natural way of receiving good things without questioning it. Why not learn from them this week.

Challenge for this Week: Get close to Jesus.

Lenten Reflections: Stations of the Cross, Station 4

Here is the fourth station of the cross reflection where Jesus meets his mother…

Written Reflection:

Jesus continues to carry his cross, and as he does he meets his mother. This is the one who has since the beginning treasured each moment with her son. Except that this isn’t a moment to be treasured.

There eyes connect and their pain meet. Think about how Jesus trust in God’s plan allows him to move forward. Think about how Mary’s trust in God must be challenged and how difficult it must be.

Walking through sorrow challenges trust. So today ask Jesus to strengthen your trust. He never gave up his trust in God the Father. Ask him to give you trust even in the darkness…