Joy is made of more than Happiness / Hebrews 1:1-6 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday December 25th 2021 / Christmas Day / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / Dec 25th 2021: Christmas Day, Hebrews 1:1-6 “Joy is made of more than Happiness.”
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through Whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?
“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?
And again, when He brings the firstborn into the world, He says,
“Let all God's angels worship Him.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all are hearts be acceptable in your sight O, Lord. Amen.
Grace, peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: Good Christian Friends. Merry Christmas! Today we celebrate the birth of Our Lord Jesus; the promised Christ; the Messiah; the Saviour. This is one of the most joyous occasions on the church’s calendar and yet Joy is a complicated thing.
The most commonly removed verse of the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” is verse three. When I say removed, I mean that when people go to sing it and wish to shorten up the length of the hymn its verse three that get’s the chop. It’s also the verse that brings the whole hymn back down to earth, so to speak. Now you’re trying to remember how verse three goes, we just sang it at the beginning of the service ... it go like this:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
The third verse of “Joy to the World” is all sorrows and curse and sin and thorns and that just isn’t all that joyful now is it? Yet this is also why Joy is so complex. It stands to reason that Joy is complex because Jesus is complex. This reading from the letter to the Hebrews appointed for Christmas Morning delves deeply into the complex nature of the Word of God’s incarnation; when speaking of Jesus it uses language that sounds like the Apostles and Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. Of course the letter to the Hebrews pre-dates these Creeds of the church. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews crams big concepts into few words when contemplating the complexity of Jesus, this Infant that would grow and become strong, filled with wisdom. This Child who had the favor of God upon Him. Jesus is complex because He is both God and Man: Joy is complex because in the Christian life, this side of eternity, Joy is made of more than Happiness.
Verse three of “Joy to the World” points back to the beginning of the book of Genesis, that first book of the Bible, Where God creates the world and calls it good and rests from His labour only to discover that the single commandment provided to Adam and Eve could not be kept. There weren’t Ten Commandments then, just one: don’t eat from that tree, yes ... that tree ... the one over there: it was a request that they trust God’s Word to them. Verse three of “Joy to the World” drags us back into that moment in time, the moment when Eve plucked the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Where is Jesus at that moment? John’s Gospel says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” In His pre-incarnate nature Jesus was in the Garden as God’s Word. The Word of God, who the writer of the letter to the Hebrews likewise describes as the One through whom God the Father created the world. Jesus was not only paramount in the creation of all things He was also to be the promised Salvation of that same world when it fell from grace.
The coming of Jesus is prophesied for the first time in Genesis chapter three when Eve and Adam hear God’s words to the Serpent, the fallen angel who had tempted them into their sin, God said “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Why Jesus is to come becomes apparent when “to the Man God says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Do you hear the words of verse three of “Joy to the World” in the words from Genesis? Cursed is the ground, Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth. No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. How does this baby Jesus, Whose birth we celebrate accomplish this? How does He take the deadly venom out of the serpent’s bite? It starts with Him being born innocent of the sin that Adam and Eve had committed. At its root the Incarnation is wrapped up in the sinless conception of Jesus, He was innocent of the mark of sin that all men and women carried from the fall. Jesus is truly the only baby born innocent, the only child who was innocent, the only teenager who was innocent, the only man who was innocent, not just born innocent but innocent in every thought, every word, and every deed. It is a mind boggling and mysterious thought. And a good one to contemplate here on Christmas morning – the world would distract us from this thought with snowmen and turkeys, with mistletoe and tinsel yet wrapped in swaddling clothes in the Virgin Mary’s arms is the most important life and the most important death the world would ever see, a child appointed for the rise and fall of many, upon Whose newborn brow rests an unseen crown of majesty, upon Whose lips unspoken words pregnantly lay in wait for the days of His public ministry.
How does Jesus take the deadly venom out of the serpent’s bite? He does it were the world would least expect it, this act of salvation is fulfilled at the cross, the very place of sins and sorrows, where His mother Marry wept over her dying and then dead son; Where God “for our sake made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.” It’s as though Jesus sucked the serpent’s venom out of our wound and died the death we were fated to die. He sponged up every last sin on earth into His Body and then with iron pinning Him to the broken tree of the cross He became the payment of the debt that the broken commandment of the garden of Eden demanded: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” That day upon the cross when He took on your sin, on that day Jesus died. The day Jesus ate your sin He died. He was as dead as anyone who dies, with one difference – He had no sins of His own, He had your sin instead. The reverse is true when you as a Christian die; you have no sin upon you but your own yet because of Jesus you have His righteousness, His perfection, His sinlessness swaddling your wretchedness to make you pure to God and ready for eternal life. From the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross a complexity is revealed: That unseen crown of majesty upon His brow was exposed to be a crown of Thorns. The unspoken words which pregnantly had laid upon the newborns lips in the manger, at the cross say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus made purification for sins, it was at the cross where He did this purification, and you are the recipient of this gift.
Jesus gives Himself to you as a gift, a gift that you can’t obtain on your own and this is why it is so very important that we teach you about Jesus in this place. This Gift of Himself that He gives to you, the world will not give. This Jesus that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, this Christ that Saint Paul, this God that Saint John tells you of in Holy Scripture, will not be given to you by the world. Jesus provides His Church as the place from where His gifts will flow out into the world, and a place where you are welcome to study His Word and contemplate these great and mysterious gifts that Christ pours over you with Water and Word, that Christ places in your hand and mouth with Bread and Wine: His righteousness, His very Body and Blood, the gift of Faith.
The world seldom shares the gift of God’s word and does nothing to share these other precious gifts, the world fears to even unwrap them, these gifts would sit forever untouched under the Holiday tree of society, yet under the Christmas tree of the church you’ll find your name on the tag and Jesus’ name in the spot reserved for the giver of the gift. And why does the world dislike this gift of Jesus? The world dislikes the gift because it all looks so weak, God sends a baby to save a broken world full of sorrow and sin ... why couldn’t he send a mighty warrior? At the cross “the chief priests with the scribes [in the crowd] mocked [Jesus] to one another, saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself.” They point to Him as weak, a Man of constant sorrow, Isaiah foretold this saying “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” Saint Paul tells us that Jesus, “was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God: For we also are weak in Him, [yet] we will live with [Jesus] by the power of God.” Jesus is risen! He’s risen indeed. Alleluia!
This is our struggle at Christmas, and the reason Isaac Watts (the Writer of the lyrics for “Joy to the World” includes verse three of this hymn, our Joy is fused, and bound up and injected, and welded to our sorrow our pain our grief our sin our need for rescue. We mourn our dead, we grieve our losses, we pick the thorns from our bread and look upon the curse that still haunts us the whole world over and on the one hand we are tempted to have our Joy apart from our pain: to cover our trouble with so much tinsel, to wrap it up for another day, not Christmas Day, any day but today. On the other hand, with the world the way it is, we may also be tempted to wallow in our pain and avoid thinking on the Joy God gives in Jesus. So this year, maybe more than other years, verse three of “Joy to the World” stands ready to remind us why we have Joy in Christ, why we have Joy at His birth, why heaven and nature sings His praise – His birth spells the end of the curse. Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, Jesus from the manger to the cross, from the empty tomb to eternity upholds the universe by the word of His power and He has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and we now await His return. At His return the final fulfilment of the promised restoration will take place. It will be as Saint John tells us: when Jesus in the book of Revelation promises from the throne of God in heaven, these words saying them with a loud voice, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I Am making all things new.”
Through this Jesus, God created the world; through this Jesus, God is making you a new creation: a new creation in your baptism, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” In Christ your sorrow and sin are covered with Joy. In Christ Jesus your Joy is not an empty sentimental notion slathered on by a world that wishes to avoid the hardships of life, in Christ Jesus your Joy is complete for it is grounded in Him and it takes into account all your trials and troubles, just as He takes into account all your trials and troubles.
Now “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” For Christ’s birth is the beginning of your new birth, and by this birth “[God has done what He set out to do. He] has delivered [you] from the domain of darkness and transferred [you] to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom [you] have redemption, the forgiveness of [your] sins.” All of this we celebrate with Joy as we remember what we’ve been saved from, and while the world would like you to think of the cure and not the sickness, as Christians we remember both as we sing “Joy to the World” for if there was nothing to be saved from you’d need no Saviour, as it stands we need the wonders of Jesus’ love every day of our life.
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Let us pray:
Lord, have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.”
 Luke 2:40
 John 1:1-3
 Genesis 3:15
 Genesis 3:17-19
 2 Corinthians 5:21
 Genesis 2:16-17
 Luke 23:34
 Mark 15:31
 Isaiah 53:3
 2 Corinthians 13:4
 Revelation 21:3-5
 2 Corinthians 5:17
 Colossians 1:11-14
 Jude 1:24-25
Photo Credits: Main Photo Joy from pexels; detail Candle in the dark from unsplash; Joy Lights from unsplash; Thorns from unsplash; detail Farming from unsplash; Visitation of the Magi from unsplash; detail Jesus Cross and Crown from pexels; Red Christmas Tree Ornament from unsplash; detail Virgin Mary and Child from unsplash; detail Merry Christmas Ornament from unsplash; Baby Jesus from unsplash.