Do Not Be Afraid… to Experience Joy

Do Not Be Afraid… to Experience Joy

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSVUE)

Every angel in scripture seems to use “Do not be afraid” as an opening line. But perhaps no one needed to hear that message more than Joseph. He was in a terrible situation. As a man, finding out that his fiancé was expecting a child, he had every right to abandon Mary to preserve his own dignity. The stakes were high. Who would believe him? Would he do what he had to do to keep society off his back? Or would he follow his heart, stand firm in his faith and stay with Mary?

Folks, the truth is, keeping up with “appearances” and trying to please the people around us can rob us of our joy. God calls us to be messengers of encouragement and support, even when it is not easy, just like Joseph was. Being honest and true to ourselves is what brings us true joy!

Friends, today we celebrate the third week of advent by lighting the candle of joy. Now many times when we think of the word joy, we think of someone with a big smile on their face. Or a person laughing. Or maybe someone dancing or acting silly or just having fun. Joy can be all of those things, but it’s important for us to remember that joy is not the same thing as being happy. Joy is so much more than happiness because feeling happy is a temporary reaction to what is happening around us.

As they say, happiness is transitory, meaning it comes and goes as the circumstances around us change. Joy, on the other hand, is foundational. It is inside of us, and it only deepens through changing circumstances. Our faith tells us that joy looks beyond what is happening here and now and reframes our present situation in the light of God’s infinite love and grace, enabling us to experience whatever life sends our way with trust and confidence in God, as long as we are true to our faith and to ourselves.

Unlike joy, happiness disappears in the face of pain and struggle. And yet, many of our great lessons in life are learned by reflecting on our difficult personal experiences. Joy helps us to put things into perspective and to remember what is really important.

This Advent season, some of you may be experiencing deep sadness, frustration, or grief because of loss, difficult circumstances, or frustrations in your life, but the Good News is that God’s grace is deeper still. And when we gather, especially during the Advent season, we are called to celebrate with joy God’s presence among us because God is with us no matter where we are or how difficult the circumstances of our lives might be.

Folks, let’s face it, this advent, as we have been hearing the stories of angels appearing to Zechariah and Mary and Joseph, and next week as we hear about the heavenly hosts appearing to the shepherd out in the fields, if you really think about it, none of their stories are perfect. And if those angels appeared to us, giving us the same messages they are giving them, I’m sure that rather than feeling joy, we too might be afraid, perplexed, confused, frustrated, or even angry.

This time of year, many of us run around crazy, trying to find the perfect Christmas tree and the perfect gifts, and the perfect meal in order to have the perfect Christmas. But the truth is we are setting ourselves up to be disappointed because there has never been “a perfect Christmas.” Even the first Christmas wasn’t perfect because Jesus was born into an imperfect world. But even in the midst of lives that were less than perfect, we see the central characters in the Christmas story choosing joy!

In today’s scripture reading, at first, Joseph did not respond very well to the report that his fiancé was pregnant. He actually made plans to divorce her. Until the angel came and assured him that everything would be okay. Now even with the angel’s message, I don’t know about you, but I think joy would be the last word that Joseph would use to describe his feelings, and yet Joseph had a strong faith. He followed his heart. He knew deep down inside that the right thing to do was to stay with Mary even though his reputation could have been destroyed. And it’s possible that deep down inside, he also knew that God had chosen him too to be a part of the plan. And though life would not be easy, he would be a quiet messenger of encouragement and support, being honest and true to himself, not worrying about what everyone else was thinking–in the end, that is what would bring him true joy!

Friends, not a Sunday goes by here in Oldtown–nor will a Sunday pass that I am in the pulpit–when you will not be reminded that God loves you unconditionally just the way you are. Because I know that life is sometimes hard. I know that we are sometimes surrounded by grief and overwhelmed by pain. I know that we turn on the television and hear of horrific tragedies and acts of violence and injustice. I know that sometimes it’s hard to pay our bills and make ends meet. I know that there are hungry and homeless families right here in North Attleboro. And I know that sometimes even our friends and our families, the people who we love the most, hurt us and cause us pain, and sometimes we do the same in return. But I also know that through it all, through all of our struggle and difficulty and frustration, because of that baby that was born in the stable in Bethlehem long ago. there is always hope. And because of that, we always have the opportunity to choose joy.

Friends, I know that when most of us think of Christmas joy, Joseph is not the first person we think of. But maybe every once in a while, we should–not because Joseph is holly and jolly, smiling all the time, drinking hot chocolate, and dancing around in his favorite Christmas sweater. But because Joseph is an example of courage and strength. He doesn’t worry about what the world thinks of him, and he is not afraid to experience the inner joy that comes when you follow your heart and do what you know deep inside is the right thing for you to do, no matter what the other voices around you are saying.

So brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead and feel the pressures of searching for the perfect Christmas, take some time to think about Joseph. Remember that joy comes from within. Then don’t worry about what the world thinks of you, but listen to your own heart and be who God created you to be because being honest and true to yourself is what will bring you a sense of true joy!

My friends, May it be so. Thanks be to God! Amen!


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