First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (3rd Sunday in Advent, December 15, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Habakkuk 3:16-19; Philippians 4:4-9
It is reasonably easy to rejoice, to have joy, when things are going well in our lives. When work is going well and we are relaxed; there is money in the bank to cover the bills, and everyone is healthy, it’s relatively easy to rejoice. But many of us know how hard it is to be joyful when it seems that life is falling apart, when you have questions for God and you haven’t received a good answer.
A little boy once asked his father, “Dad, how many people in the world?” Dad said, “I don’t know, son.” The boy asked his Dad again, “How many stars in the sky, Dad?” “I don’t know, son.” Dad responded. The boy continued, “How many fish in the sea?” “Don’t know, son.” “Dad, you don’t mind me asking you all these questions, do you?” “No, son. How are you going to learn if you don’t ask questions?” That is probably how a lot of us feel today: we ask question after question of God, and it seems that we just get a shrug of the shoulders from heaven. How can you have joy when you got questions of God, and the questions just aren’t getting answered?
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. JOY is the central theme of this Sunday. It’s the joy of the Lord’s coming. I met with an old friend this week who has been going through a tough time latterly and as he was getting ready to leave, I asked him: how can I pray for you today? He answered, “Pray that I may find and have some happiness. Life has been tough.” I said to him, “I will not pray for happiness, rather, I will pray for the joy of the Lord to be your strength.” Friends, our circumstances may or may not change, but what really needs to change is our attitude. That’s to find joy no matter what is happening in our lives. And yes, we can have joy regardless of our circumstances.
For my meditation this morning on this Third Sunday in Advent, I chose a couple Scripture lessons, Habakkuk 3:16-19 and Philippians 4:4-9. Both Scriptures introduce to us people who have found joy in the face of misery. Let’s look at these two profound examples from God’s word, the Prophet Habakkuk and the Apostle Paul.
First: Habakkuk: Joy in the Midst of TroubleHabakkuk is the fifth last book in the Old Testament, just three short chapters. The Book takes a form of a dialogue between the prophet and God. It’s a back-and-forth honest conversation between God and Habakkuk who is struggling with the way things are. Habakkuk is one of the minor Prophets. He prophesied from around 640 BC to 609 BC, just a few years before the Babylonians’ attack on the land of Judah. Habakkuk saw Judah’s rapid moral and spiritual decline, and also saw God’s upcoming judgement for the nation’s sin.
Habakkuk saw the destruction, the famine, and the exile coming upon his people as a result of the Babylonian invasion, and he says in Habakkuk 3:16 “I hear, and I tremble within; my lips quiver at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones, and my steps tremble beneath me.”
Yet, in Habakkuk 3:17-19, the prophet makes a choice in the midst of trouble. He chose to trust and find joy in the Lord in the midst of trouble. He says, “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”
Habakkuk challenges us to put our faith in God even during the worst of times. When Habakkuk reached the end of his journey, he had moved from a place of doubting God to a place of trusting God no matter what. “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord I will be joyful in God my Savior.” That is an unwavering commitment to God by Habakkuk. And I pray that God will also lead you to a place where you will learn to trust Him no matter what, where you may run along the heights in God’s presence with the feet of a deer.
Habakkuk affirmed that even if everything he relied on failed, if everything that gave stability to his life crumbled, still he would trust the Lord. If Habakkuk were speaking today, he would say, “Though the stock market crashes, the company goes bankrupt, the economy heads south, my health falls apart, if everything I rely on falters – still I will trust in the Lord. My confidence in God will not waver.” In the second example we see a song of joy coming from a prison cell.
Second: A Song of Joy from a Prison Cell
In Philippians 4:4-7 Paul sang a song of joy from his prison cell in Rome. He writes to the Christian in Philippi saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
When Paul wrote this, he was in prison for sharing the good news of salvation in Christ alone. Paul commanded the believers in Philippi to rejoice, twice in verse 4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Paul is not calling the believers in Philippians to live a state of denial, but to realize the nearness of the Lord. “The Lord is near,” he says. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Friends, yes – I truly believe we can have joy in the most challenging seasons of life. Luke chapter 2 tells us that the initial and simple message of Christmas, the message the shepherds first received was a message of joy. Luke 2:8-12 states, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
When Christ is received as Lord and Savior, there will be true joy in our hearts. When we know that the Lord is Sovereign and that He is in control, we can have joy. When we know how much He loves us, we shall have deep joy. When we know how much He has forgiven us, our hearts will be filled with joy. When we encounter His amazing grace, we will have His joy in our hearts. The Prophet Habakkuk had that joy as well as the Apostle Paul and many others though the ages. Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in God my Savior. Amen.