Welcome to the Christmas season!  It’s December 1 and that means you have 24 days to buy me a present.  I believe, you buying me a present, would bring you joy.  Just kidding.

We are talking about joy this December.  The idea of joy is everywhere.  Joy is in our Christmas songs like, ‘Joy to the world.’  Joy is in every commercial and store you visit.  They are trying to make you believe that when you buy something from them, it will bring you joy.  All the movies you watch, in two hours they end with joy.

What is Joy?  Joy is a way of living we call character.  It’s a choice, a decision we make.  A great way to describe joy would be, ‘God is in control and I can relax in that.’

In the Bible, it tells us that when the Holy Spirit takes over our lives, one of the things that show up in our lives consistently is joy.

When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace… NLT Galatians 5:22

Joy is different than happiness.  Happiness is based on what happens to us.  It’s external.  If you get a 12- point buck in the first ten minutes of buck season, that will bring you happiness.  If you get accepted to the college you applied to, that brings you happiness.  If you get a job that means you work less and make more money, that would bring you happiness.  But happiness can go away quickly because happiness is temporary.  It comes and goes based on what happens to you.  You can be happy that you are on a Thanksgiving break from school but when your parents tell you to clean up your room, boom, happiness is gone.

To make this simple; happiness is what happens to you.  Joy is a choice you make.  It’s about character.  Remember, joy is based on, ‘God is in control and I can relax in that.’

I think one of the challenges we have about God is, we want happiness.  But God wants to give us joy.

2 Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. 3 For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything. NLT James 1:2-4

Do you see that?  Joy is a decision.  Again, it’s called character.  Godliness.  When hard times hit, you won’t be happy.  You can have joy and not be happy.

What is normal?  People want God to give them easy street.  No pain, no struggle, no hard times.  They want God to give them happiness.  They hope God will give them what we call the American dream or prosperity gospel.  They expect God to give them success and comfort.  That’s not what scripture tells us.

I was driving my daughter back to college and we were talking about life.  I told her that looking back in my life, the problem I have is that I want to control things and I want things to meet my expectations.  So, if something bad happens, I can feel stress and anxiety and anger and believe that God isn’t with me.

I told her, looking back on my life, every time something devastating happened to me, I can see how God used that to shape and mold my heart.  But as I walk through that devasting moment, it’s hard for me to see God and relax and be joyful.  So, I encouraged her to just try to enjoy each day the best she can.  God is in control so try to enjoy that.

Life can steal our joy – right?  And we have to make choices to find and keep joy.  That’s what we are talking about this Christmas.  When life tries to steal our joy, and it will, we have to make choices.  We wanted to walk through the whole Christmas story in scripture this December.  And at the same time, we wanted you to see the people in the story are real people with real issues and see how they responded to real life.

What is one of the biggest things that steal our joy?  Anxiety.  How many of you struggle with anxiety?  How many of you feel so much stress and anxiety that it steals your ability to be joyful today?

Before I read the beginning of the Christmas story, I need to point out a couple of things.  In the bible times, before you got married, you would have a year-long engagement to prepare for marriage.  And, you would be engaged around age 12 or 13 or 14 because people in those days would pass away in their 30’s for 40’s.  That means the story I’m about to read, Mary is around age 13 and engaged to be married.

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  30 “Don’t be frightened, Mary,” the angel told her, “for God has decided to bless you! 31 You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Luke 1:26-38

Mary meets an angel and is scared and confused.  When you read through scripture, what happens every time someone meets an angel from heaven?  They are terrified or flat on their face.  Angelic beings are filled with glory and wonder and power beyond what we can imagine.  So, Mary is rightfully scared and confused.  An analogy might be thunder.  If you are in a rain storm it’s not a big deal.  If you hear about a thunder storm in another city, it’s not a big deal.  If you experience a lightening bolt hitting the ground near you, you will experience a new level of awe that will drop you to your knees.  That is, our best guess, what it’s like to be in front of angelic being.  Mary was scared and confused.

In the middle of those emotions, Mary discovers that she is going to be pregnant even though she never had sex.  This isn’t good news.  This probably means her future husband is going to dump her.  No one will want to marry her.  The town is going to forever gossip about her and ruin her reputation.  She’s going to be, ‘that girl.’  And can you imagine explaining this to your parents?  ‘Mom, Dad, I love Joseph, and honestly, we have never had sex and I’m pregnant.’ ‘Ya-right, cause that’s how it works – Mary.’  ‘No seriously, God made me pregnant.’

What the angel said to her, wasn’t good news.  The angel was inviting her into a story of scandal.  It would have filled Mary with stress and anxiety.  And to make it worse, didn’t the angel just say something about kings and kingdoms?  Doesn’t that mean war?  Mary had to be in a whirlwind of confusion.  What is God saying to me?

Can you even begin to image the stress and anxiety and scandal this news brings into Mary’s life?

Let me ask you, what are you stressed about?  What are you anxious about?  Your health?  Your finances?  Your job?  Wondering if you will get married?  If you are married, wondering if your marriage will last next year?  Your kids?  Your parents?  What keeps you up at night?

Let’s keep reading this story.

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s already in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:26-38

Mary does exactly what we would do.  She tried to figure out what God was up to.  She asked, ‘But how?’  This is such a normal question.   How in the world will this all happen?  Can you give me a detailed plan of how this is going to happen?  What the angel is saying is inconceivable.  It’s never happened.  There is no way it will ever work.  This is impossible.  How?

Isn’t this your question to God?  You come to church.  You hear about joy.  You look at your circumstances and wonder, ‘how?’  You feel stress and anxiety and think, how in the world could I ever find joy?  Don’t you want a detailed plan of how God will fix your life before you trust Him?  I don’t see any possible way how God could do that for me.  Is that you?  You look at your life and you look at God’s promises and you wonder, how?

Let’s keep reading.

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.” And then the angel left. NLT Luke 1:26-38

I have to tell you, this 13-year-old girl, was remarkable.  God invites her into what seems to be an impossible story that will probably end in scandal, she says, “Okay, I’m in.”  Wow.

Can I ask you something?  Have you said that to God?  Is this how you start the day?  “Lord, I am your servant, I willing to accept whatever You want.”  If you haven’t said that, it’s why you feel worry, stress and anxiety.  God is in control and you can relax in that but you’re not.  You are struggling to keep control and that will steal your joy.

Remember, we aren’t talking about happiness.  The decision we must make to be joyful, is to trust God.  Trust destroys fear.  Trust destroys stress and anxiety.  Trust brings joy.

The apostle John wrote:

His [God] perfect love for us eliminates all dread of what he might do to us. If we are afraid, it is for fear of what he might do to us and shows that we are not fully convinced that he really loves us. TLB 1 John 4:18-19

Are you still afraid to trust God?

Are you noticing that over time, God’s love for you is eliminating fear?

Do you believe God is in control?

Do you believe that you can relax and enjoy life because God is in control?

Do you start your day with, “Lord, I am your servant, I willing to accept whatever You want.”?

Imagine how trusting God would eliminate so many bad emotions.  Emotions like, fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness.  Trusting God brings you freedom.