31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 18, 2016
Revelations 11:15, 19:6 & 16
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Doesn’t hearing the Hallelujah Chorus fill you with joy? Stories say that King George II was so overcome with joy that he spontaneously stood up when he heard the Hallelujah chorus, which meant everyone else had to stand up, and it’s been a tradition ever since.
Shouldn’t there always be joy in hearing about Jesus, singing about Jesus, praising Jesus?
This time of year, we hear about keeping the Christ in Christmas. All year, I think we should talk about keeping the joy in Jesus.
Joy and Jesus – not two words we immediately put together. But when did Christianity and following Jesus lose their joy? When did Christianity and following Jesus become about rules and judgment and dour faces?
Because following Jesus should be joyful. Being Christ’s disciple should bring you delight. The good news of Jesus Christ is good.
Mary, when she finds out that she will be carrying the Christ child, sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” For God does good things for God’s people: God lifts up the lowly and brings the powerful down from their thrones; God fills the hungry with good things and scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; God shows all mercy and love.
God is good! Mary’s soul sings it. Our souls sing it. God is good, and Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly – that we might live joyfully. (John 10:10)
You have only to look at Jesus’ life; look at his teaching to know that Jesus came to bring us God’s joy.
Jesus healed people who had been sick for years, who had no hope, who were outcast and despised because of their illnesses. Jesus raised people from the dead, reuniting families and loved ones. Jesus had compassion for those others scorned and taught us to love our neighbors, even love our enemies. Jesus set us free from worries about money and possessions by reminding us that God loves us and will take care of us.
Almost everyone who knew Jesus, who encountered Jesus was happy, was filled with joy. The only unhappy people were the ones Jesus challenged, the ones Jesus challenged about their greed, their hypocrisy, their egotism, their lust for power.
Jesus came to bring us joy. Jesus came to free us from the religious rules that were supposed to make us right with God but only distracted us from our relationship with God. Jesus came to heal our bodies, souls, and relationships. Jesus came to bring all people together, creating God’s kingdom of inclusive love here on earth. Jesus came to bring us joy.
Do you feel that joy in your relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you wake up on Sunday morning and think “It’s church day! I can’t wait to praise God!” Do you wake up Monday and say, “Praise and thank Jesus. I’m alive! I can’t wait to share Christ’s love with others.” Does your relationship with Jesus bring you joy?
Jesus is bringing our children joy right now. They are in the Parish house celebrating his birthday with a party. They are making a nativity scene out of cookies, frosting, and candy. (You’re welcome, parents.) They are playing games and singing “Happy Birthday Jesus”. Our children know joy in Jesus. How about you?
Last week in the car, I was enjoying Christmas carols on the radio, and the reggae version of Mary’s Boy Child came on. It has a cool beat and with the steel drums, you came dance along as you hear them sing “Hark now hear the angels sing, a king was born today, and man will live forever because of Christmas day”. My cheerful singing changed to joyful prayer though when it got to the part, “Oh my Lord, You sent your son to save us, Oh my Lord, your very self to save us. Oh my Lord, that sin may not enslave us, And love may reign once more.” Google it and listen to it on Youtube.
There is such joy to be found in God’s love, such joy to be found in Jesus.
Unfortunately, too many churches and too many Christians have taken the joy out of Jesus, as well as the love, kindness, peace, justice, and welcome.
In his book, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, Dan Kimball writes:
This may sound odd, but quite honestly, I don’t blame people in our emerging culture for what they think about us. If I weren’t a church leader or if I weren’t friends with Christians who really are following Jesus in a loving and balanced way, I would probably judge Christians and Christianity based on what I could see from the outside. And it isn’t a pretty picture. Based on outside observations of Christians, there’s no way I would want to become one of them. I wouldn’t want to become an angry, judgmental,…finger-pointing person. (Kimball, 32-33)
Kimball is right that Christianity and Christians have gotten the reputation for being judgmental, for being exclusionary, for being racist, sexist, homophobic, and even power hungry, manipulative, and unkind. I’m not just talking about those “other” Christians. I’m also talking about us in the mainline Protestant church, the United Church of Christ, the Methodist church, the Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians.
To paraphrase Billy Sunday, an evangelist in the 1880’s, Going to church and saying you are a Christian doesn’t make you one anymore than sitting in a garage makes you a car.
Sadly, there are “Christians” in our world who are not really following Jesus Christ. They have heard the good news, but it hasn’t changed their hearts. They are still holding on to their greed, their ego, their lust for power, their grudges, like those Jesus challenged long ago.
I’m not sure that we can change them – I think only God can do that, but I also know that we shouldn’t let them change us. We should not allow anyone to take the joy out of Jesus for us.
The Grinch thought he was going to steal the joy out of Jesus for the Who’s down in Whoville. He hated Christmas, no one knows why – “perhaps his shoes were too tight, it could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right, but I think that the most likely reason of all was that his heart was too sizes too small”.
Whatever his reason, the Grinch hated the Who’s and their joy. He hated their singing and music making; he hated their decorations; he hated their noisy games; he hated all of their Christmas celebrations, and so the Grinch thought that if he took the Christmas trees and Christmas lights, the stockings, the jing-tinglers they tied on their heels, the Who-pudding and Who roast beast, then the Grinch would be able to take away Christmas altogether.
I’m assuming you know the end of the story though. The Grinch didn’t understand that he could never take away the Who’s joy in Jesus, that it wasn’t about the stuff, it was about the love of God made known to us in the Christ child.
Jesus came to bring us joy. So let’s live like it this Christmas season and all year long. Let’s smile and sing. Let’s greet everyone we meet with enthusiasm and a hug. Let’s combat the racism, the sexism, the homophobia, the xenophobia of our world with love, pure joy filled love.
Let’s share the good news that Jesus did not come to judge the world, to condemn the world, Jesus came to love the world, to show the depths of God’s unconditional love.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Joy to you, your Lord is come. Receive him, receive his love, and forever sing his praises, Hallelujah !