December 12, 2018

Light Joy, Extinguish

Midweek Advent 2

Sermon Text:  John 6:66-69


If you weren’t with us last week, let me get you up to speed.  Each Advent, we light candles.  Each candle represents a spiritual gift from God.  Last week, we lit the peace candle, because he whose birth we’re preparing to celebrate brought “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” And along with lighting candles this year, we’re also putting bad ones out. So we extinguished the worry candle.  Worry need not bother us, for we are at peace with our loving Lord.  Make sense?  Good.

Tonight we lit the joy candle. You know why. Many people/songs talk about the holiday season being the most wonderful, joyous time of the year.  From an earthly standpoint, you can make a good case for saying that.  Most people truly love this time of year. But spiritually speaking, you can boldly state it is a joyous time of the year and back it up.

How so? We, who came into this world as sinners who were as lost as lost gets, now stand in the light of God’s love. Why? Someone came to save us and was born a human being just like us but without sin.  Because both were true, he could take all our sin upon himself and relieve us of its oppressive weight. And with sins gone, nothing stops us from being part of God’s family and nothing will stop us from in time entering our heavenly home. All this because a Savior was born for us.  How can the Christian in us not be filled with overflowing joy for all the world to see each December? 

So we lit the joy candle. Which one can we put out - the opposite of joy? There are plenty of words we could choose, but I am going to say the opposite of joy is disappointment.  Maybe that wasn’t your word, but it makes sense, right?  When are we joyous, in general?  When things go our way.  When we received an unexpected gift (and a good one at that).  When we get what we want. When people come through for us. When our problems, fears, and worries are at a minimum. 

Flip the coin.  When are we disappointed?  When things don’t go our way.  When we get no gift or a terrible one.  When we don’t get what we want. When people leave us hanging.  When our problems, worries, and fears seem to mount on a daily basis.  And how does disappointment show?  Years ago during a rough football season, we had two games left, both against tough opponents. Despite our record, I figured at least the seniors would come out swinging since for most these were the last 2 football games they’d play. I was wrong. They had thrown in the towel and just wanted the season to be over. All the coaches were disappointed. We expected more. We hoped for effort. We wanted them to fight and hold their heads high even if they lost.  When they gave up, I questioned what I could have done. I was quiet for a few days (or as quiet as a pastor can get). I didn’t want to talk to many people. It was easy to hole up in my office. I didn’t get what I wanted.  Things didn’t go my way. They actually got worse.  Joy was the last thing I was feeling. Disappointment was overwhelming.

I know every one of you in here faces disappointment on a pretty regular basis, all year long.  But let’s narrow it down to the Advent/Christmas season.  What disappoints you this time of year? Maybe it’s that you seem to be doing so much to make Christmas memorable for others, but hardly anyone does anything for you or says thank you. Maybe it is that an adult child isn’t bringing his family back from Colorado for Xmas this year. It will just be you/your spouse. Maybe, younger ones, the year has been tight for your parents, and when everyone is on social media talking about their gifts, you’ll have to stay out of the conversation or lie because what you got doesn’t stack up to what they got.  Maybe it is a health issue that won’t go away.  Maybe it is a family problem that flares up, one you thought was settled.  Maybe it is simply that this season gets less and less “magical” the farther you get away from being a kid.  This season, all year round, every day, what do we deal with? Things not going our way.  People letting us down.  Situations that are messy.  In a word, disappointment.

Well, that’s not a new feeling for human beings.  Look at our lesson from John 6. “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”  Why? Prior to this, Jesus called himself the Bread of Life. Eat of him/look to him in faith, and a person will be saved.  Many of his hearers openly say, “This is a hard teaching.”  To think this local boy who came out of nowhere, whose parents they knew, and who looked just like the rest of them is THE Savior – that was too much for them.  In a word, they were disappointed. They expected a king who looked the part and had the right pedigree.  Jesus didn’t check any of their boxes, so they leave. He let them down. He failed their expectations.  He disappointed them.

Then Jesus turns to those who did not leave – the 12.  He asks them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” In other words, “Are you also disappointed that I am not 7 feet tall with muscles to spare, that I am not from Jerusalem, that I had a humble birth, and that I don’t ride around with an army leading the way for me, the glorious king?”

And Peter (shocker) speaks for the group.  But let’s give him kudos here.  For all the time his big trap got him in trouble, he nails it here.  He says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” Not only were they not disappointed, what were they?  Joyous.  They knew who Jesus was - their Lord. They knew what he was offering life - eternal life in heaven. They knew from where he’d come – his home in heaven with his Heavenly Father.  Sure, they’d have some short-term disappointments in the future.  The most obvious would be the parts of 3 days when they thought Jesus was dead and not coming back. But that disappointment and all others faded away when they remembered that in every sense, the Jesus they followed was their loving, forgiving Lord.

Are you dealing with disappointment this time of year?  Or might it bite you at some point over the next few weeks?  Likely.  That disappointment will seek to rob you of joy, to snuff that candle out. But makes it burn and burn brightly?  The fact you are not disappointed when you look into that manger, look at that cross, and look at the empty tomb.  And why aren’t you?  Because you don’t have a Jesus who didn’t live up your expectations, a Jesus you left behind as the disappointed crowd did.  You have a Jesus who was everything you needed him to be, and did everything you needed him to do.

And let’s keep the focus on Christmas.  A perfect Savior was born.  His daily Christmas gift to you is forgiveness, complete and total.  Every day in him is a joyous Christmas morning.  Every meal with him is a Christmas feast.  And because of all this, there is not one second in your future when you need to be disappointed.  Everything you need, you will have, and have in abundance.  Our spiritual tree is loaded with presents.  And those fill us with joy, this season and always.

One final thing.  Remember that verse about people being disappointed with Jesus and walking away?  It is from John 6 and the verse is 66.  666.  We all know what/whom that number stands for.  Satan would nothing more than for you to be like those people, disappointed in any way during what should be a time of joyous celebration. When the pull of disappointment seeks to bring you down, remember the one born for you is – the one who has the words of eternal life, the holy one who came from God and is God, your Savior. Realize the amazingness of those gifts, and give thanks as the joy of having a Savior drives the disappointment away.  Amen.