The Pursuit of Joy…

Ben Schoettel   -  


This week Pastor Ben spoke about joy—which shouldn’t be a hard topic but it is.  It’s synonym is “happiness.” If I ask you to describe happiness the definition would come pretty easy. It’s a feeling. When circumstances land in a certain place or we feel a certain way…that’s happiness.

In the movie, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” the plot follows a single dad (Will Smith) hard on his luck, literally scraping by to get a future for his son. By the time the end of the movie comes, you wonder how he’s ever going to make it. At the end though, his fortunes turn and there’s a scene, once all things turn around, where Will Smith’s voice becomes the narration, and he proclaims… “This. This right here…is happiness.”

It’s a moving moment. But what happens when circumstances change? (Good grief Pastor Rich, can’t you just let us have at least one feel good thing without ruining it?) Joy is different. Jos isn’t simply defined as a feeling…it is a response.

Take the passage for this week, often referred to as “The Magnificat.”  Mary’s song. If circumstances dictated happiness, hers had a long way to go. Poor and a teenager, she’s informed she’s pregnant. Let’s just stop there. That’d be enough, right? There’s also a guy in the mix this has to be explained to. Plus, they have to travel. This is inconvenience 101. And yet, in a moment that may not elicit happiness, something else happens. Mary’s response seems irrational but…sometimes joy is…

Luke 1:46-55…

“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

I want you to read that again. Slowly. In your mind’s eye, imagine an overcome young woman who cannot contain her joy. It’s an inner dialogue coming out. And it is a response of joy. In the first stanza, we see the reason we can have joy during this Advent season: He loves the underdog, the disqualified, and the unimpressive. Mary stands before God just like you and I – needy, flawed, with nothing. And realizing how God is looking upon her with favor, she is amazed at a God who knows her so well and chooses her—-anyway. Her boy-child will up-end all the centers of power men have established on this earth. This baby is God’s signal to power brokers at every level of society: the end of human strutting and self-centered ambition is at hand. There are a lot of people in this world that believe they have the upper hand—some of them professing Christians—but in God’s kingdom, have nothing. Going up against the strong arm of God reveals that God’s ways are upside down to this world’s values. One day, “justice will flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:24), washing away wrong and setting things right.

The reason Mary experiences Joy was her humility—you can see it all over this thing and the message, at least to me…it is really clear. Do you want joy? Seek humility. Labor for God, not yourself. Stop caring who sees the pic. Give without expecting. Park in the last spot. Take the back seat. That’s the path to greatness and experiencing joy in God’s Kingdom. It’s backwards but only if you look at it from the world’s standpoint.

The church of Jesus Christ is for people who know their own emptiness, their need. He loves the forgotten and the passed over. He pledges Himself to those who know they are the poor in Spirit. He shows mercy to those who don’t deserve it, he chooses the lowly over the proud, and he finds the hungry and fills them.

Joy is a response, and it shows itself in unbridled love and affection for God and others. I wonder today if some of our lack of joy is the condition we put (lacking humility) on the love we are willing to bestow upon others? Let’s grab a few people we wouldn’t normally grab this season and let them know God is for them and not against them. It says so in Mary’s song.