Joy Is Having Someone to Love
Lord Jesus, we just confess you are everything, and in your presence is fullness of joy. And at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore. So God, indeed, help us to rediscover the wonder and the joy of this, that God with us, not to judge, destroy, not to criticize or humble, but to raise us up. We love you in Jesus’ name, amen.
So, for the last four weeks we’ve thought about why we say “joy,” why Christmas is so associated with joy. We thought about the wise men and how they, for the rest of their lives, had a story to tell. They had something to share with the world, and they would never lose that. Joy is having something to live for. Do you have something to live for? If those men lived till they were 90, 100, or 1000, they would always be able to tell a story, how they saw heaven torn open, the angels descending, and that message that they received, which they then shared with others.
And then three weeks ago, we thought about how this is joy, to have something you can never lose. And however humble or shameful or forgotten or overlooked the shepherds might have been, in Jesus through that encounter with Emmanuel their lives were changed. They were no longer outcasts. They were no longer forgotten. But now they were witnesses and worshipers. The first worshipers of Jesus Christ were the humble shepherds.
And then last week, we thought, this is joy — having somewhere to belong. And this message, this good news of great joy, is for all people. It’s not an American holiday. It’s not even a Western holiday. It all started at the center of the world in the Middle East. And this message transcends every culture, every language, the longing of every heart, of every person who has ever lived. This is joy to know that we can belong to Jesus in one family.
Today, I want to think about the fourth aspect this passage reflects about joy. And that is that joy is simply having someone to love. And every one of you knows this is true. It’s the theme of every Hallmark movie and every popular song about love. I want us to think about Mary. In the end of the passage we’ve been looking at, Luke 2:19, it says,
“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
To treasure a means to keep safe. I don’t know what it is in your house that is your treasure, that if your house was burning down, it would be the one thing that you would go in and grab. Some of us may be surprised by what you would grab. But [Mary] was treasuring the things that she learned and the things that were revealed to her, even by the shepherds, about her son, Jesus Christ. And this was evidently a lifelong characteristic of Mary, because further down in Luke 2:51, at the end of the story when Jesus was now actually 12 years old, and Mary and Joseph had forgotten him in Jerusalem, they went a day’s journey. Then they came back, and they found him with the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And Jesus said to them (said to her and to his stepfather, Joseph), “Didn’t you know? Didn’t you know I would be about my father’s business?” And it says that “Mary treasured these things in her heart.” Same word, same phrase.
So, this was evidently characteristic of Mary, that these things she learned, she treasured. And this very simply is my message to you this morning. And this, I believe, is God’s message to us on this day at the last Sunday of this year that God is calling us as those who follow Jesus Christ to truly treasure him as Mary did. Jesus taught about this later on in his life. Let me just say this, that it was really this treasuring of Christ that got Mary through some really, really hard times. And in the same chapter in Luke 2, Simeon came and saw Christ. He was very old. And Simeon blessed the family
“and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’”
Now, a couple of weeks ago we had a child dedication, and I was just imagining if these beautiful families that came up here, if I had said something like that. “This child is going to grow up, and everyone’s going to be against him.” That wouldn’t be a very warm kind of dedication. “Oh, and Mom, a sword is going to go through your soul.” This was the dedication of Jesus. Nobody should have to watch their son die the way Mary saw Jesus die. Nobody should have to watch their son be rejected by those that should have loved him and worshiped him. But it was this treasuring of the truth about who Jesus was that sustained her.
And I don’t know what this next year is going to hold. I know most of us think it can’t possibly be worse than 2020, but none of us knows. I’m the eternal optimist, right? I always think everything’s going to be awesome. And I think it will be, but we all know that there are so many ways that things could go sideways politically, economically, culturally. I mean, there are a thousand things. And then besides the macro, in our own little worlds, none of us knows what our health will be. None of us knows where we’ll be working. Some of us thought we knew where we’d be working at the end of this year but found out we’re in a whole different career. And then our spouses, our children, all the things that we can’t control, which is pretty much everything. It’s treasuring Christ that will take us through. In fact, you cannot live without something to love or someone to love. And love and worship, they’re really the same thing. When we sing “Come, let us adore Him,” we know that word adore. We sing that in love songs. Loving, adoring, worshiping — it’s really one and the same thing. And so, Jesus himself, Jesus himself — not religion, not Christianity, not even the Bible — but Jesus needs to become our North Star and our foundation and the hub of the wheel that organizes everything in our lives. And this is what I started to say a minute ago. Jesus taught about this in Matthew 13:44. Jesus said,
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.”
Jesus is like that treasure. And Jesus is calling us to, as it were, sell everything, to lay aside every other interest, every other affection, and to put it all on him. He’s the treasure.
Thomas Aquinas, 500 years ago, said,
“No one can live without delight. And that is why a man, deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures.”
You can’t live without delight. God never intended you to live without delight. Christianity is not about introducing us to a life where we just suffer and do right and be miserable. If that’s your view of Christianity, you’ve missed it. That other great theologian, Bono said,
“Joy is an act of defiance.”
And I want to call you, I want to call me, to have 2021 as a year of defiance as we live in joy. This is how we push back against the hopelessness of our world, finding joy and treasuring Jesus every single day. Jack Gilbert, a poet, wrote this:
“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world. [Listen to this. This hit me so hard.] To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”
And whatever the injustice is that you see in your world, which may be eminently real, we can’t allow ourselves to be captivated by injustice. We have to be captivated by Jesus Christ.
This is what the world is longing for. This is what the world is waiting for. The world ultimately is not waiting for morality. The world ultimately is not waiting for clarity. The world is waiting for something that is truly worthy of worship. And we know him. His name is Jesus. It’s our superpower. Ultimately, we will pursue what we love most. We will pursue, you will pursue what you love.
Another foundational teaching of Jesus Christ in Matthew 6:21, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” Amplified version, I think this is so helpful, “For where your treasure is, there is your heart [your wishes, your desires; that on which your life centers].” What does your life center on? The message paraphrase translates this, “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” The place where your treasure is, is the place where you will end up being. See, the shepherds didn’t come to Bethlehem out of duty. They came out of delight. The magi didn’t traverse hundreds of miles (some think as many as 500 miles from ancient Mesopotamia) because it was their duty, as the little dramatization reflects. They came because they had found what they had sought all their lives — the object of their love and worship. And so, Jesus said a little further down, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy or single, your whole body will be full of light.” And that word single is a compound word in the Greek. It’s from the Greek radical alpha and then the Greek word for voyage, if your eye is set on one voyage. What is your eye set on? What is the trajectory of your life moving to? Is it one voyage?
I was on 385 the other day and I was seeing some guy in some car. First of all, they were in the far, the fast lane, and they were going right at the speed limit, and they were kind of swerving like this. And I said, “Okay, that’s a new driver, right?” Because nobody had taught them that if you want to stay in the lane, you’ve got to do what? You’ve got to look down the road. Whether you’re mowing or whether you’re plowing or whether you’re looking down the road or whether you’re just living life, the question is, what is your eye set on? What has captivated our affections? That’s what we’re going to live for. It’s all about what you treasure, ultimately. It’s all about what you treasure. That’s why David said, “One thing have I desired,” not these 28 things I dabble at.
“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the presence of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold his beauty and to inquire in his tabernacle.”
Martha was very busy making lunch for God. She was offended because her sister wouldn’t help her, Mary. What did Jesus say? “Martha, one thing.” One thing, one voyage, one affection, one love. And the one we love … What’s so beautiful is that when we love Jesus, the One we love is the most joyful being in the universe. And that’s what’s awesome. Because money is not joyful. Your career is not joyful. Your personal bucket list may be wonderful and good, but it’s not joyful. When you love God, Psalm 16 says this,
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
He fills us with joy in his presence. So, when you love Jesus, when you set your affection on Jesus, you’re really setting your affection on the ultimate source of joy. This is the original lie of the devil, that God is holding out on us. This is what he said to Adam and Eve, right? God doesn’t want to let you have that fruit, because he knows that you will be as God. And if the devil can convince us that we have a choice, and our choice is we can either be good or happy, then he has got us. When the truth of the matter is, it’s not about being good. It’s about setting our heart on Jesus Christ and finding in his presence actual joy. Did you know that our God is joyful? Zephaniah 3:17,
“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
So, when the angels sang “Joy to the world,” they were simply echoing the heart of God. They were simply mirroring the atmosphere of heaven, which is an atmosphere of joy. And this is what God is calling us to. And I call to you, don’t settle for anything less. C.S. Lewis wrote this,
“Good things as well as bad, as you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire. If you want to be wet, you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize that God could, if he chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great foundation of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of [his] reality. If you are close to it the spray will wet you, but if you are not, you will remain dry.”
After the shepherds encountered Jesus, they were still shepherds. They didn’t have parting gifts. Mary didn’t give them a little bag of gold and a new career and a new status. They’re still shepherds. But the encounter changed everything.
This morning, I want to challenge you that we can choose to set our affections on what is truly worthy. We can. I have been very powerfully struck by this new docudrama, I guess you’d call it, on Netflix — “The Social Dilemma.” I don’t know if any of you have seen it, but it’s kind of terrifying in a way. This documentary calls social media “humanity’s greatest existential threat.” I don’t know what you think is humanity’s greatest existential threat, but they make a pretty good case. And it talks about “surveillance capitalism,” how we’re not users, we’re products. Social media is constantly harvesting information. And what’s terrifying is that even within our own homes, if you have 16 devices, it very quickly figures out whose device is whose. And then the algorithms begin to feed us a steady diet of news, of ads, of images, of perspectives. And it’s all carefully curated to capture your money. But fundamentally, there’s something even more foundational than your money, and it’s fundamentally about our attention. The battle of our lives, the battle of 2021, the battle of our day is to curate our mindstream, because our affections and our attention are being constantly vied for by people who know very well what they’re doing. But Paul says to us in Philippians 4:8,
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
And that is pretty much an absolute polar opposite of what we typically find on social media. There’s so much that’s completely untrue. There is so much that is not praiseworthy. There’s so much that is dark and corrupt and critical and calculated to divide us and polarize us and turn us against one another. But if you look at that text, that’s really just a mirror of Jesus Christ, isn’t it? Because he is the one who is true. He’s the one who is honorable. Jesus is the one who is just and pure. He’s the one who is lovely. He’s the one who’s commendable. He’s the one who’s excellent. And ultimately, he’s the only one, the only one, who is worthy of our praise. So, the battle of our lives is, are we going to choose to lock in on Jesus, or are we going to allow ourselves to be led captive by the high things of this world, by those spiritual principalities which in our generation are being carried digitally into our homes and into our minds?
The good thing is that God himself is the initiator. God himself is always pursuing us. Did you know that God is pursuing you? And he’s not pursuing you because he’s trying to get you to not drink or smoke or chew or do the “coochie coo” or go with girls who do. Maybe he cares about some of that. But Jesus said in John 4 to the woman at the well that the Father is seeking worshipers, ultimately. He’s not seeking people who are simply morally good. He is seeking people who are emotionally connected and devoted. The Father is seeking worshipers. He’s pursuing us all the time.
In my house, there’s a little poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that I just love it. My daughter painted it for me last Christmas. It’s up on my wall right next to my desk, and it goes like this,
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes; the rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Do we see the burning bush that is in every hour, every moment of our lives? The Spirit of God empowers us to choose God and to choose joy. Henry Nouwen said,
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing joy every day.”
And you know, the reality is, I have to choose to worship Jesus supremely every single day. I almost never wake up in the morning saying, “Man, I just want to worship Jesus all day today.” It’s a choice. Now making that choice means, for many of us, we’re going to have to let go of some things. We’re going to have to let go of bitterness. We’re going to have to let go of disappointment. We’re going to have to let go of anger. And that’s a choice because you can’t treasure anger, you can’t hold disappointment close to yourself and also choose Jesus. It’s one or the other. And every single day, every hour, every moment, every morning, when you wake up, there’s something vying for your affections. And the sad thing is that we will hold onto that bitterness against our husband or against our wife or against our parents or against our children or even against God. We will hold onto it like grim death. We’ll cherish it and nurture it because there’s something that feels comforting about it. But the devil sold us a bill of goods.
Some of us today have to make the choice to release the bitterness and the anger and the disappointment that we may have and say, “I’m letting that go so that I can give myself to treasure Jesus Christ.” Making that choice means that we need to forgive, to release hatred and loathing, contempt, to quit keeping score. Making that choice to treasure Jesus for many of us means we need to confront some things. Some of us are carrying things in our spirit, dark things, secrets that we’re hiding from one another, things we haven’t shared with our spouse or anybody else. You know what, that’s just like a big anchor that you’re dragging with you when God wants to give you wings to fly. And I’m not talking in the abstract. I mean, now. Right now.
This year represents an incredible opportunity for us. As Peter said earlier, there have been so many things in 2020 that have been disappointing, that have been so hard. I know for many of you, Christmas was just like, “Wow, what was that?” But whatever life you imagined yourself having, now is the moment to say, “God, I release it. I let it go, and I choose you. I choose to worship someone who is truly worthy of worship.”
So right now, I’m going to invite the worship team to come back, and we’re going to respond in a moment in worship. But I want to call you right now as they come. Will you say that now? Will each of you, every one of you, as the Spirit lays his finger … and you may say, “Oh, that’s a little thing.” If you’ve been keeping score, if you’ve been holding a grudge, if you’ve been passive aggressively holding out against somebody else because whatever, will you? Can you? I know you can, because the Spirit wants you to. Will you say right now, just see those things falling from your hands and say, “Jesus I choose you. I will treasure you and nothing else — not even the good things, not even my children, not even my future, not even the work of being a pastor. I choose you.”
As Peter said, I believe this year can be the most remarkable year (whatever comes) as we treasure Jesus together. I want to close by reading these words. By the way, I cough because I have vocal tension. People I heard last week were like, “He coughed.” I almost always cough when I preach. I’ve been in quarantine for nine days, I’m okay. So, I thought, what a great place for us to end. This is the Jesus Storybook Bible, because we just need it to be simple, don’t we? And this is what it says,
“No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a story. It’s an adventure story about a young hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave prince who leaves his palace, his throne, everything to rescue the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life. You see, the best thing about this story, it’s true. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one big story — the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.”
Isn’t he worthy to be treasured? Let’s stand together and sing.