A week before Christmas a man in his sixties went into a big toy store and began looking around at the various displays. He returned several times to a counter that featured a little train set. He was particularly fascinated by the great sounding whistle that came from the engine as the train scurried around its oval track. Finally, he said to the clerk who was demonstrating the toy: “I’ll take one.”
Whereupon the clerk said, “Your grandson will love it; it will make him really happy.” “Oh, well then I’ll take two,” the man replied.
What will make you happy; what brings you joy? This past week my wife asked my 5 year granddaughter, “If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?” After a short pause she answered, “Some rock candy.” If you could have anything in the world what would it be? The premise of pretty much every commercial on TV is that money can buy something that will bring you happiness and joy. You want to be happy? Buy that car, wear those jeans, eat at that restaurant; you want to be joyful? Use this hair product. Humans have pursued joy and happiness in every avenue imaginable. In fact the pursuit of happiness is one of the rights our founding fathers bequeathed to us in the constitution. Yet most of humanity is still looking for it. It is probably easier to describe where joy cannot be found:
The philosopher Voltaire was an unbeliever of the most pronounced type. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.” He would certainly affirm that joy is not found in unbelief.
Joy is not found in Pleasure — Lord Byron lived a life of pursuing pleasure if anyone did. He wrote towards the end of his life: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.”
Joy is not found in Money — Jay Gould, the American millionaire whose success at business made him one of the richest men of his time, said as he lay dying: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
Joy is not found in Position and Fame — Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age is regret.”
So what do you THINK will make YOU happy? What will bring lasting joy into your heart? This past week I typed into the Google search bar ‘What will bring you joy?’ and it turned up 504 million hits! 504 million! If you glanced at each site for one second and kept going for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week it would take you 16 years to look at them all! Clearly the discussion of what brings you joy in life is a topic of interest to the human race. So if someone were to ask you, “What brings you joy in life” what would you answer? I noticed as I went through some of these sites that people made a differentiation between joy and happiness. People tended to find happiness in things like cars, smart phones, houses, or vacations. But joy was typically not found in things. People found joy in observing nature and appreciating its beauty. People found joy in their pets; in fact there are pages devoted to the joys of being a dog or a cat owner. There are those who find joy in watching and being with children. And there are those who find joy in being with other people. Others find joy in art and all its different expressions like painting, sculpture, pottery or music. Some people find joy in using their talents—the artists in their drawing or painting, the dancers in their dancing, the singers in their singing, the musicians in their playing of their instruments and the athletes in their sports. Some find joy in traveling. People find joy in helping and serving others. And of course, people find joy in a relationship with God.
So any of these strike a sympathetic chord in you? Do any also bring joy to you?
All this brings us back to the gospel lesson today. Jesus had sent seventy disciples out to 35 different towns and villages that he would be entering in on his way to Jerusalem. He gave them authority to heal the sick and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. When they came back to report they were pretty excited and Scripture tells us they were filled with joy because they had preached the good news and they had healed the sick and they had also been able to cast out evil spirits in the name of Jesus. And Jesus told them that they should not find joy in the fact that they have authority over the spirits, but that their names were written in heaven. It seems like sort of wet-blanket sort of thing to say doesn’t it? We know Jesus was certainly not a wet blanket, so why do you suspect Jesus told them to find their joy elsewhere?
Jesus wants us to always keep our hearts on the ultimate goal of our faith. That we will find joy throughout our lives is a blessing from God. We do find joy in relationships and in beauty and in service and in all sorts of wonderful things that God gives us and that is certainly wonderful. But, Jesus tells us, find your ultimate or lasting joy in the fact that your name is written in heaven. You see, heaven IS our ultimate goal. Jesus tells us that the treasure of our hearts needs to be heaven. Even really great things, worthwhile things here on earth are of no value if we lose focus and lose our eternal souls! So where our souls are going is THE most important point of living. Jesus has promised that those who are his followers will share his glory in heaven. He has promised that we will be joint heirs with him for eternity. You and I, as followers and believers in Jesus Christ are His adopted brothers and sisters! The Apostle Paul wrote that no eye has ever seen nor has any tongue been able to describe the wonderful things that God has in store for us who are going to inherit eternal life. How could you describe this world we live in to a child that is still in his or her mother’s womb? It would be impossible. In the same way it is impossible to describe the joys of heaven. We do not have the background the experience to understand what heaven will be like. But we know from the testimony of Jesus and his apostles it will be wonderful. This is why Jesus tells us not to get our hearts entangled with the things of this world. C. S. Lewis once said: “Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning can really satisfy,” Scripture says that God has placed eternity in the hearts of humans. We have an innate part of our being that longs for the eternal. And that longing cannot ever be satisfied here on earth because nothing on this earth is eternal. But we, you and I were made for the eternal.
We need to realign our hearts to remember where we are headed. We need to set our hearts on things above; this world is not our home. This world, the things and stuff of this world, the people around us, the bodies we inhabit or the pleasures our bodies may experience now will not bring us ultimate joy or happiness. So what do we, you and I really want? Let us recalibrate, refocus so that our joy is indeed that names are written in heaven; let us find our joy and even our point of living in insuring that our names are written in heaven. Amen