My grandfather’s name was Graham Lester and he was more than a grandfather to me; he was probably my best friend. As I child, I’d often spend the night at his house and when I got my learner’s permit I’d drive him to doctor’s appointments and we’d spend the day together. One quirky thing about him was that he didn’t want to be called Grandpa or anything like that, he wanted me to just call him Graham.
Graham made such an impact on my life that we named our daughter after him; she is Elizabeth Graham. Graham died on October 27, 1983 from complications from diabetes. He was 60 years old when he passed away and I was 16. I don’t remember who spoke at his funeral, or what was said, but I do have one vivid, lasting memory of the service.
When the funeral was ending the pastor asked everyone to stand and sing as my grandfather’s casket was rolled out of the church. The pastor said, “Let’s stand and sing loudly and joyfully the hymn, Joy To The World.”
“Joy to the World” at a funeral? “How can we sing joyfully?” I thought to myself.
What an odd mix of feelings I had as I walked arm in arm with my mother behind the casket. I was crying and all I knew was my best friend was being wheeled out of the church in an aluminum box to the sounds of “Joy to the World.” How can I be joyful while feeling such sorrow? Is it even possible to grieve joyfully?
The Apostle Paul would say “yes.” In fact in Thessalonians he tells us not to grieve like those who have no hope. Paul faced obstacle after trying obstacle in his walk of faith and yet he never lost his joy. In Philippians 4:1 Paul writes, “Rejoice, ALWAYS” and then in 4:12-13 Paul says,
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Paul’s joy was rooted in Christ. My grandfather’s joy was rooted in Christ. At 16 years old, my joy was rooted in circumstances. The circumstances were that my grandfather was dead and there was no joy to be found. That was then. Fortunately my faith has grown. I am beginning to understand what Paul and my grandfather understood about joy not being dependent upon circumstances. Life is unpredictable. Accidents happen. We can lose our jobs, our health, and our loved ones, but we can never, ever lose the love and grace and favor of Christ.
True joy is knowing Christ. True joy is seeing beyond the ever-changing circumstances of our lives to live with a greater truth that God’s love and care for us is constant, unchanging, unwavering and unconditional. Joy is living each day IN Christ. My grandfather understood this and now I’m grateful that he wanted “Joy to the World” sung at his funeral. He continues to teach me and cause me to reflect on the grace of Christ, even to this day.
This Christmas we’re going to take a look at “Gospel Joy.” The Christmas story is filled with joy. It starts with Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth and when Elizabeth sees Mary she exclaims, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, my baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44) In Luke 2 the Angels announce to the world the message that brought joy to the world, that our savior was born!
This Christmas season we will ask ourselves how we can fully experience the joy of living in Christ. I pray you’ll join us often during this Advent season. We’ve got several special events happening at Bethel including a Christmas Cantata on the 17th at 10:30 a.m. and “An Old Fashioned Christmas” on Wednesday the 20th at 6 p.m. On Christmas Eve we’ll have two services, our morning service will be in our historic sanctuary at 10:30 a.m. and we’ll have a Candlelight Communion Service in the Hope Center at 5:30 p.m. Please join us at Bethel this Christmas to share in the joy of Christ. I pray that you and your family have the most joy-full Christmas ever! May God bless you and may God bless Bethel Church.