What do you do when it’s the most joyful time of year and you don’t have any joy?
What do you do when everyone around you has a bright happy face on and all you can feel is the dark hole left by a loved one who isn’t around this Christmas? What do you do when your world tells you to be merry and your heart is frozen over by cold winds of trials and tribulations?
You remember this: Joy is a focus before it is a feeling.
Joy is a focus before it is a feeling.
Steven Furtick said that. You’ve never heard me quote Furtick before. I am now.
Joy is a focus before it is a feeling. Our feelings follow our focus, don’t they?
If you wake up in the morning and your first thought is that trouble at work, how are you going to feel when you leave the house for the day? Troubled. If you lay in bed at night and your thoughts are fixated on that conflict you are experiencing, how are you going to feel when you wake up in the morning? Conflicted. Our feelings follow our focus.
What does this have to do with Christmas?
St. Francis of Assissi understood this concept 800 years ago when he staged the first nativity scene – filling a cave in Italy with livestock and a new born child. Eight hundred years ago, Francis thought the advent season had become too secular, too focused on gifts and secular traditions. In order to restore the joy that had been lost, Francis created something to focus on. Something to fix his eyes on. He sent out a public invitation and a spontaneous time of joy and worship sprang up around his experiment.
The feeling of joy followed a focus on the good news of Joy in Jesus Christ.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Has there ever been sorrow and suffering like Christ experienced on the night of his betrayal and the long day of torture and crucifixion that followed?
Yet Christ endured it. Not only did he endure it – he scorned it, he scoffed at it. His focus was on the certain outcome of his suffering and in a matter of hours his pain was swallowed up in unspeakable joy.
There are two profound lessons in this. The first we’ve already been talking about – feelings follow focus.
If you don’t have anything joyful, if you don’t have anything transcendent and glorious and true in the focus of your thoughts – you’re not going to experience joy. It doesn’t matter how Christmas-y you get.
The light tours, the Mariah Carey albums, Die Hard and It’s a Wonderful Life; they don’t have what the soul needs for joy.
And here’s the thing – the more you look to the traditions and the gifts of Christmas for joy, the more you rely on them, the more devastating it will be when they let you down. This is how your thought process will work – if I can’t find joy in this, if I’m not happy in the most joyful time of year, when will I ever be happy?
The good news is that there is a simple solution. Shift your focus.
If you will join Francis of Assisi and the wise saints of the past and fix your eyes on Jesus you will find good news that can warm hearts frozen over with the icy heartache of pain and suffering. Good news that can light up the dark holes that have been left behind by good times and loved ones that are no longer with us.
Let’s look at an announcement of that good news.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
This was a clear reference to the prophesy of the coming Messiah in Isaiah.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
The people of Israel were no strangers to suffering. Years of disappointment in their leaders and kings, years of internal and external conflict, years of oppression and abuse by foreign armies. Into that suffering came the prophesy of a coming king who would change everything, a messiah who would make everything right.
Here in Luke 1, the messenger of God announced at the birth of Jesus that the Messiah had come. The great one who would make all wrongs right and bring permanent peace had come. He’s here! His kingdom has come! This is good news.
But if his kingdom has come, why do I suffer injustice? Why do I have constant conflict and no peace?
This is a huge question. One we don’t have to be afraid of asking.
Here’s the answer – the coming of Christ is a two-stage event. We Christians know that don’t we?
We know that. He started his great glorious work of redemption, but it is unfinished. Only when he comes again to earth will the work be completed. Jesus came as a suffering servant, a lamb to be slaughtered. He will come again as a conquering lion. The good work of redemption begun with the first coming will be completed in the final restoration of the second coming.
We know that. But we often expect from the time of his 1st coming the things that are only promised at the second coming.
We expect to be free from tragedy and injustice and sorrow and pain now. We may not say that, but we show that when tragedy and sorrow come and suddenly we’re ready to accuse God of wrong doing.
What did Jesus promise at the time of his first coming?
In this world you will have trouble.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Jesus promised trouble. He promised trials and tribulations. He promised that life as his disciple would feel like a cross.
The early Christians understood this.
“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,”
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
1 Peter 4:12
This is a time of testing and tribulation. If you are not experiencing testing and tribulation something is wrong.
But here is where the good news comes. Here is where we find something transcendent to fix our focus; the joy will follow.
Jesus isn’t done and he is coming soon. With the Lord a thousand years are like a day. In the Lord’s plans, he is coming tomorrow and everything will be made right. Let’s look at the next verse.
But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:13
Those who have been faithful to Christ in this time of trials and tribulations, have been promised an end to suffering and a beginning of eternal joy. It is in the promise of the second coming of Christ that we find something wonderful to fix our focus on. Listen with me to some of these promises.
Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar.
He will swallow up death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face and remove the disgrace of His people from the whole earth. For the LORD has spoken.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
You can’t expect from the first coming the things that are only promised at the second coming of Christ. When you accept this, you can fix your thoughts on the glorious promises of the things to come at the second coming.
When you do this there is no darkness the good news of Jesus cannot penetrate. There is no icy heart He can’t warm.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown