00:00 You're listening to a live recording from west side church in bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us morning, everybody. My name is Ben Fleming. I'm one of the senior pastors here at west side church and excited to bring another installment of our Christmas series to you this morning. One of my favorite things about Christmas is that, we get to learn a bit more about each other. You can ask a simple question about a tradition, or something in our communities of families or as individuals, the movies that we watch, the things that we do, we get to learn a lot about each other. One of the biggest debates. That's been raging on our staff here at west side, between myself and others who shall remain nameless. And also Dave, is how you harvest a Christmas tree. some of us meaning me go out into the woods and we take a saw and we cut that thing down and we let the snow rest on our beards. And, and some of us meaning those who shall not be named and Dave go to home Depot and have somebody put it on your car for you. Yeah, don't clap for that. Don't clap. Don't do it.
01:10 And it tells me a lot about Dave. it's kind of the cliff notes version of who he is. If you'd like to have a conversation to explore the psyche a little bit more after service, he'll be available in the atrium. and then me and Dave argue about this, honestly, and then there's a bunch of people that are on staff that are just like, look, I just get my tree out of a box. So you both shut up. And they honestly seem like the happiest people that I know actually. So maybe, maybe they're onto something. The lights are already on there. You plug it in. Boom, it's all done, whatever. today we're going to learn about something that is really closely attached to our Christmas tradition, whether we're always aware of it or not. Now you probably are aware of it is the idea of joy.
01:53 What does joy look like at this time? Where does joy come from? And it's an interesting word for me. It's I don't know if I'd say it's triggering, but anytime someone says we gotta be joyful. I almost feel like I have to conjure up a certain kind of emotion or a personality. And I don't know about you, but I grew up in the church and we sang this song that, was supposed to, I think, bring joy to your spirit. And it brought the opposite for me. And it went, I got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart where ah, the first service was like, we are not participating. I'm so glad that you're here now. And, as a doubt, where down in my heart, where down in my heart pay attention, I got the peace that passes understanding doubt. And it was somebody who didn't grow up in the church.
02:45 Like you guys are messed up and yes we are. And that's one of the first things, whenever I think about the word joy, or I think about the marketing of it, right? It's on the stockings and it's on the shelves and it's at the home and it's at the targets and it's, it's all over the place, right? That, that joy is a part of this season. And I feel the need because I'm a bit of a contrarian sometimes to push back on that because you want me to be joyful. I choose to be more solemn this time of year. And this is kind of what my kids do. Sometimes when one kid is really, really happy about something, the other kid feels they need to bounce them out and they get really, really angry about something. And they kind of do this back and forth thing.
03:25 So my son is super upset that we're going to go do XYZ. And my daughter's like father, I would love to go participate in such an activity. May I come along sometimes because she watches Peppa pig. There's a little English accent in there too. But then she watches bluey, which is Australian. And then it gets weird. But, and I think sometimes we push against some of these things, but joy doesn't come from a place of manipulation. It doesn't come from a place of right. We got to conjure this up and, and it's easy to characterize. Joy is kind of a product of, of something good or something that has happened to us. It's evidence of maybe the end of a difficult, long rewarding road, but that's shallow waters for something that comes from actually a much deeper well, and that is joy. Joy is actually visionary.
04:14 It's good tidings. That will be for all people. The scripture says that the joy set before him, because of the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross and despised its shame. The joy of the Lord is our strength to continue, not just the result of something finished. We need to create a dynamic of joy that can't exist only in a world in which I'm happy because something is done. But instead joy welcomes a new move of God. And it carries us through the difficulties of life. And that's evidence here in Luke chapter one verse 26 is where we're going to start. It says in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth a town in Galilee to a Virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The Virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, greetings you who are highly favored.
05:05 The Lord is with you. And Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, don't be afraid, Mary, you found favor with God, you will conceive and give birth to a son. You're to call him Jesus. And he will be great. He will be called the son of the most high the Lord. God will give him the throne of his father, David. And he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever. His kingdom will never end. How will this be? Mary asked the angel since I'm a Virgin. It's a very good question. The angel answered the holy spirit will come on. You in the power of the most high will overshadow you. So the holy one will be born to be born, will be called the son of God, even Elizabeth. Your relative is going to have a child in her old age.
05:48 And she who is said to be unable to conceive is in her six month for no word from God will ever fail. I'm the Lord's servant. Mary responded, may your word be to me, to me be fulfilled. Then the angel left here and then it continues on it's a lot of reading, but try to keep up. It says in verse 39, at that time, Mary got ready and hurried into a town in the hill country of Judea where she entered Zachariah's home, greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the holy spirit and allowed voice. She exclaimed blessed are you among women and blessed is the child. You will bear. Why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord shall come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb, leaped for joy blessed is she who has, who has believed that the Lord will fulfill his promises to her.
06:38 Then it goes on in verse 56. It says, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. Let's pray, father God, we thank you for the word of the Lord. That's come to us. Or we thank you for the joy that has been made available because you are with us. And we pray that we would delve deeper into community in these moments that together that we would develop a greater understanding of who you are, that we would be reminded very simply how much you love us. And that would change our lives today in Jesus name, we pray and everybody said, amen. So we already established that joy doesn't just happen as a result of something good happening in our lives, a championship won or a race completed, or relationship finally engaged with those things are good. And they are sources of joy and how I'm going to walk through this story.
07:27 Isn't the only way that joy manifests itself in our life, but it might be a different way than what you're used to. And the first thing I want us to understand about how joy comes about in this story and how it can come about in our own lives is that joy is a natural response to Jesus's presence. Now, this is particularly significant considering the fact that traditionally the presence of God was often met with warning and fear. I'm thinking of priests and tents and ropes attached to ankles just in case things went poorly in the presence of God. So you could pull the priest out at the safety of everyone else. I'm talking about Indiana Jones. You know what I'm saying? The opening of the Ark of the covenant and what happens if you lay your eyes on the presence of God, these are kind of the things that come to mind when I think of many old Testament scriptures and many things that just come into our lives and our minds culturally, but here is a different response to the presence of God. It says the baby and Elisabeth's wound was John, the Baptist leaps for joy in these moments, joy is a natural response to the presence of Jesus, which makes me believe this and connect some of these dots. That if we are a people in the church, that if we're Christ followers, that we're image bearers, or we're trying our darndest to be image bearers for Jesus, that when we walk into relationships and into places and into areas of our community, it is our job to help create joyful environments. So what we're going to do is
08:55 We're going to pass out Santa Claus hats at the end of this, give you guys, we're not going to do any of that, but it does create a level of responsibility for us that I gotta be honest with you that especially right now with how unstable I feel like our world can be with how unstable. I feel like the person standing next to me can be with Hawaiian stable. I probably am, but I don't see that because I am me. I don't want to engage anybody with any kind of joy. I'm not interested in bringing the presence of God anywhere. I'm just trying to get my groceries and get out of here. I'm just trying to get mine out of this culture and out of this place and then leave its presence. But this charges us with something else that especially as Jesus lived his life, he died on the cross for our sin.
09:37 He rose again for our salvation. And now his presence goes with us in manner of the holy spirit with us everywhere we go, theoretically, right? Or truly the presence of God goes with us just like you walked into that room with Elizabeth. And that means we should bring, be bringers of joy into the environments around us. We've got to hold ourselves accountable to not being bringers of anxiety, bringers of rage and anger. But instead when the presence of God goes with us, that when Jesus, the holy spirit walks with us into a room that may be the souls of other people, whether they know it or not, or whether they see it or understand why or not the souls of other people could leap for joy, because something different has entered in to their space.
10:29 Geography matters, proximity matters. It is tempting as Christians to say, we're going to develop our own culture and we're going to do our own things our own way. And we're all going to move to the mountains and we're all gonna wear burlap sacks. And we're all gonna do this in this really direct one way thing. And we're going to disconnect ourselves from the world, right? Because we are quote not of this world, but notice that Jesus has response that God's response is not to say, look, this world is burning down and I want nothing of it anymore. Instead he leaves heaven and he leaves perfection and he becomes God with us manifest in our presence. And that presence is so palpable. And it's so powerful that it makes a young baby still in the womb of its mother leap for joy. I wonder if our presence in the lives of people around us allows their souls to leap for joy. I wonder if our presence in our city, in our community and in our state helps create an environment where the souls of others can leap for joy, because that's what the presence of God does in this moment. Geography matters. Proximity matters. I don't always want it to, but it does what a mystery that John didn't jump in the womb just at the conception of Jesus. Maybe he did, but there's no mention of that. Instead he waits until
11:53 Jesus enters the room and was in closest possible. As the muster mothered shared a warm embrace God with us, we as messengers can carry the same presence of God. The second thing that happens, is that joy happens in the middle of a safe relationship. The author, Rachel held Evans says this about Mary. She says, I'm a Christian. Not because of anything I've done, but because a teenage girl living in occupied Palestine, and one of the most dangerous moments in history said, yes, yes. To God, yes. To a wholehearted call. She cannot possibly understand yes to vulnerability in the face of societal judgment. Yes. To the considerable risk of pregnancy and childbirth. Yes. To clog milk ducks and spit up in her hair. Then hundreds of middle of the night feedings. Yes. To scary fevers and learning as you go. And all the first century equivalents of bad advice from web MD, yes, to a vision for herself and a little boy of a mission that would bring down rulers and lift up the humble that would turn away the rich and fill the hungry with good things that would scatter the proud and gather the lowly yes.
13:01 To a life that came with no guarantee of her own safety or her sons. I love Mary's response to the angel who says, don't be afraid for, you have found favor with God. And then that favor comes in the form of you're going to be pregnant and it's going to be miraculous. And Mary's like, I don't know that this sounds like favor. Can you explain more as I imagine this story for a young woman, especially in this era and in this culture, right? It would be hard enough now, but a young woman in this era, in this culture explaining to her friends or family or her community, look, I know I'm not married and yes, I know I'm pregnant, but it's God's son. How do you feel about that? Anybody believe me, is this a verifiable thing? Everybody feel okay and cool. As the angel announces this to her, she understands that she, if this is all true, but the angel says is true.
14:04 She's about to enter into an incredibly difficult, painful season of life where the people that she's called friends and family, all of a sudden become suspicious of her. And not to mention when the baby is actually born, just purely the difficulty and the great risk of having a child in such an era is so insane. And so what does she do right when she hears this news? I think she does. She does this for a couple reasons, but she runs to her relative, Elizabeth, who the angel says she's been miraculously given a child as well. And I think Mary goes to be like, okay, I'm going to go see Elizabeth pregnant. And then something might be legit about this whole angel thing. But I think she also goes to so that she can go to one of the safest people in places that she knows. Have you ever
14:51 Vulnerable, have you ever felt like you had a secret that you couldn't express to someone, have you ever felt lonely? And then you found that one person that's had a shared experience with you? You know, one of the most powerful things I've ever heard in church before, one of the most powerful things I've ever heard in relationship, the words I've been there or me too. Cause sometimes you say, man, I have this thing, I'm wondering this about God. That's not how I grew up. And that's not how I understand. And then the person, all of a sudden goes, oh my gosh, I've asked that question too. And you're like, oh my gosh, did we just become best friends? This happens all the time at parties and everything that my wife tore her Achilles this last summer. And I noticed that we would walk into areas and people would be like, oh, so what's wrong with you? Like she got tore my Achilles, all of a sudden there's six people that have also torn their Achilles that come out of the woodwork go, oh, excuse me. Somebody say torn, Achilles. What doctor do you use? What surgeon, how they do the operation? How long was the recovery? Did you turn it all the way to tear a partially? How'd you tear it? Pickleball like me. Yeah.
15:54 And all of a sudden you've got a community because there's pain, there's experience and there's process. And not everybody can understand it. You know how the church is often viewed by people who exist on the outside of it is if they come in and they express their concerns and they ask their questions that we will go, oh, that's not it. Nope. You're wrong. No, you're crazy. No, you can't think of it that way. When our wonder, if the more powerful approach to create a relationship, that can be a part of the process of joy and experiencing the presence of God is, Hey, we asked those questions too. Hey, we don't always have the answers either. We've wondered as well. And so for Mary and living in such an unsafe situation, I can't even imagine how deep and powerful the embrace Elizabeth would feel, who is bearing a child at the same time, who is a family member who also feels like she's experienced a miracle. Somebody that would hear Mary say I am pregnant. And it is with the son of God and the one person maybe in the whole world that we're looking at her and go, yes, this is amazing. Come on. No, I believe in. Can you believe, look at this, look at this.
17:07 This I've been hidden. Christmas treats early. Okay. And the feeling for Mary of, oh my gosh, this is awesome. Somebody believes me this depth of relationship, this close to proximity, this incredible friendship that they have creates a place for the joy of the Lord to manifest this art itself. I wonder if we can't be a safe place for other people so that the joy of the Lord can manifest itself. I was watching, one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time with my kids. The other night, we watched a Muppet
17:49 Christmas Carol from 92. I think it's from 92. Michael Caine is Ebeneezer Scrooge Kermit. The frog is Kermit the frog. And but there's lots of, there's lots of additions of Charles Dickens story that takes Ebeneezer Scrooge, a really selfish, arrogant, angry man. And he's visited by the ghost of Christmas past and present and future. And they change his mind because he gets a different perspective on life and how he could have a positive impact and who he could be. And the ghost of Christmas present takes him to Bob Cratchits house, who is one of Ebeneezer, Scrooge, his employees, who he is treated particularly poorly earlier in the story. And Bob Cratchit can't see Scrooge because he's with the ghost of Christmas present. They're just kind of ghostly. And he stands in the, in the corner of the house on Christmas day and he watches the Cratchit celebrate and he hears about how they're behind in the mortgage.
18:56 And he hears about how tiny Tim is probably going to die. And he listens to these stories and he gets a level of intimacy and understanding of the people around him. And that is the main driver for when Scrooge wakes up and it's Christmas, actual Christmas day, he runs out and he buys him a Turkey. He pays for that mortgage. He encourages the family, hoist tiny Tim up on his shoulders. And why is he motivated for all the, well, there's a little bit of fear, right? Cause he's visited by other people earlier in this story that just say, look, you're going to die. And it's going to be really miserable. And you're going to be in chains for the rest of your spiritual life. And that freaks them out a little bit. But the biggest driver for scrooges change is because he got to hear things and understand things about people that he's been walking in, the sitting and working right beside for so long, but he had never heard these things about their lives before he stopped. And he listened and that changed everything. Elizabeth stops and listens to Mary and it creates the safest relationship possible for her to spend time in.
20:10 They could share their miracle and their struggles, unafraid of backlash. They could Marvel and speculate about the future. What life would be like with these two boys, they could be silent together. They could speak without a filter. They could show each other their pregnancies. They could laugh at things that not everyone else would laugh at. They could tell inside jokes, they could share secrets. They could care for one another in an intimate moment. And joy exists in those places. Can you be that for someone, not just this Christmas season, but with the rest of your life, can you welcome someone in to such a degree that there's not just this, if you shape up and if you fly right. And if you think the right way, we can spend a little bit of time together, maybe get coffee, but I've only got 30 minutes. And then we gotta get out of here a few ways to do this, try to build your schedule in a way where you're not always going from one thing to the next thing, to the next thing, to the next thing, intimate relationships are created in space. A lot of times, the second thing that you could do that relates specifically to us here is you could join a community group at west side. That sounds like a commercial for the low price of 1995.
21:29 But the reason that we create community groups and that churches all over the world create community groups is not so that we can have another event to count people out. But because we understand that it can be difficult to find close intimate relationships. When someone is speaking into a microphone from a platform unto a crowd of hundreds of people, because what we're all really looking for, whether you believe it right in this moment or not is a kind of relationship that we can walk through the difficult times with, through the most joyful times with we can create these environments of presence and intimacy in relationship that can manifest the presence and the joy of the Lord. And one of the ways that we believe that that happens is in community groups and the cool thing about community groups that they're not all Bible studies, some are just eating food together. Some are like, I think I heard a one on curling together. Some are skiing together. Some are barbecuing. Some are watching each other's kids games together and over time relationship is established and created. And before you know, it, we're not just a church that gathers on a Sunday, but we're a church that intimately cares about each other. We believe in each other and God shows up in those places.
22:36 Let's pray, father God, we thank you for your joy joy. That only comes from your presence. Lord, we're thankful for the big mountaintop moments. We're thankful for the, the ends of the climb and the championship trophies. And we're thankful for all these moments. We'll continue to thank you for them. But Laura, we are thankful for a joy that is visionary, a joy that sustains us through difficulty, or just as your word says that you, because of the joy set before you, you endured the cross and despised the shame because of the joy set before you could walk through a difficult and painful time and road. Lord, we're thankful for that may be the same for us that we would see the joy set before us so that we can endure in Jesus name. We pray and everybody said, amen.