Symbol of Joy

December 13, 2009



Zephaniah 3:14-20

14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;

shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,

O daughter Jerusalem!

15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,

he has turned away your enemies.

The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;

you shall fear disaster no more.

16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

Do not fear, O Zion;

do not let your hands grow weak.

17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,

a warrior who gives victory;

he will rejoice over you with gladness,

he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing

18 as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you,

so that you will not bear reproach for it.

19 I will deal with all your oppressors

at that time.

And I will save the lame

and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

20 At that time I will bring you home,

at the time when I gather you;

for I will make you renowned and praised

among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes

before your eyes, says the Lord.


Here is a question for you: What does joy look like? That is right, joy. How would you describe it? How would you paint a picture of it? If you had to come up with a universal symbol, a kind of catchall image for this universal experience and feeling that we call joy, what would it be?

Is it a mother holding her newborn child? What about the shout of a fan when his team finally wins it all? Maybe it is the huge grin of a groom when he catches a glimpse of his bride walking down the aisle on their wedding day? Pure joy.

Joy is an interesting emotion--difficult to explain, yet, when you see it, you know it. When you feel it, it is unforgettable. We have all seen it. We have all felt it. So again, how might you describe this thing called joy? What would you say is the symbol of joy?

Some people would argue that coming up with an all-encompassing image of joy is a lot easier than you may think. In fact, they say we already have one. It has called the dollar sign, and, if you think about it, they may be on to something. You hit the jackpot in Vegas. You hit the powerball lottery. Sheer unadulterated joy. Likewise, flash a dollar sign to any game-show contestant and his or her face will, without fail, light up with something that looks a lot like joy. And you can bet that after a rough financial year, the one thing that will bring sweeping smiles to the faces of retailers around the globe is the sound of cash registers ringing. It is our cultural, consumerist ode to joy.

A woman told me a story about when she and her husband were in the Air Force. They were young and not very thrifty and not making much money, and she said that one month toward the end of the month, they had spent everything. Bank account on zero. Wallet empty. They had no money at all. She said that she happened to go through some pants and she found a dime, just a dime. She said no one will ever know how much she rejoiced over that thin dime.

It is hard to argue against the emotional influence of money. Right or wrong, the U.S. dollar, the European euro, the Japanese yen the British pound signs are signs for joy.

And if that is the case, it makes what has happening in India even more interesting. Earlier this year, the Indian government began searching for a symbol for its national currency, the rupee. Surprisingly, this massive nation lacks a recognizable image for its money. So this past spring, officials called upon the creativity of the Indian people themselves to come up with something that would capture the essence of India and become the face of her growing economy.

For a small fee of 500 rupees (about $10), any citizen could submit an entry. The reward for the winning design is the rupee—250,000 of them to be exact (about $5,000). But more than designing the symbol for Indian currency, the winner will have designed what is bound to become the cultural indicator of status and success, wealth and achievement, in all of India. In a country of more than one billion people, one person will submit a design that will become a cause for celebration and a sign of joy.

But all that joy is misplaced. Dollar signs, pound signs, rupee signs are not real symbols of joy. So, again we ask, what does joy look like?

Well, many people would say Christmas. Many consider Christmas the most joyful time of the year. In fact, according to one popular tune it is the “hap-happiest season of all.” Christmas and joy go together like peanut butter and jelly or Regis and Kelly — you get the idea.

However, for many people Christmas is closely linked to that other symbol of joy, the dollar sign. Christmas joy is linked to packing the credit card with expenses and packing the car with presents.

Of course, some people try to cut corners. Did you hear about the guy who bought his wife a beautiful diamond ring for Christmas? He was showing the diamond to a friend, who said, “But I thought she wanted one of those sporty four-wheel-drive vehicles.”

She did,” he replied. “But where am I gonna find a fake Jeep?” Ooops.

You might say that guy missed the whole point, Christmas is not about money. But in our culture, it is. Try telling the kids that this year Santa is forgoing gifts and instead is just giving out hugs. See what kind of response you get. They will tell you in no uncertain terms, joy is not found in a hug from a dude in a red suit. Joy is found in unwrapping Modern Warfare 2 for the Xbox 360. Right?

Wrong. The Bible paints a different picture of joy. It is a picture disconnected from symbols of status and success, divorced from the idea of piling up possessions and stuff. That has not to say those things are bad. Giving gifts is great, receiving them is great and money is neither good nor bad. It is how you use money that makes it good or bad. Properly used money can be a means for blessing and fulfillment, but it cannot be a source of real joy.

Zephaniah can tell us about joy. I know what you are thinking. Who is this Zephaniah character? I would like a show of hands this morning. Who has ever even heard of Zephaniah before? He was one of those guys we call Minor Prophets that gets squeezed into the end of the OT. He is between Habakkuk and Haggai, which probably does not tell you much. Zephaniah is a short book, only 3 chapters long, and I suppose he is easy to overlook and underappreciate.

He kicks things off with a brutally honest reminder to the Israelites of their need to turn away from the other “gods” they’ve been going after and to say goodbye to the other signs of success they’ve been striving for. If they fail to do so, Zephaniah says, one day all the temporary joys they have been chasing will fade away, and it will be time for a nasty but necessary day of judgment.

But in the closing words of his message, Zephaniah offers an incredible picture, a beautiful glimpse of real, biblical, divine joy. He speaks of a day when God no longer will deal harshly with his people. He speaks of a day when the judgment for pursuing false joys is no longer held against those who have been made right with God through the grace of God. He writes of a day when a new King of the people will enter into the midst of the people and through his righteous rule take away all their fears. Zephaniah speaks of a day when people’s greatest shame will be transformed into shouts of praise because every sin they ever committed against God, every issue in their past that they once thought separated them from God, will have been dealt with and remembered no more by God.

There will be a day, there will be a time, Zephaniah says, when men and women will “sing aloud” and “shout,” where they will “be glad and rejoice” with all their hearts. This true, authentic joy does not result from piling up enough money or achieving certain levels of success. This lasting joy flows from the fact that they are with God and God is with them.

Real joy, biblical joy, comes from knowing without fail or falter that we live and breathe in the very presence of God. As Zephaniah says ,

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,

a warrior who gives victory;

he will rejoice over you with gladness,

he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing


Did you hear that? The Lord will delight in you and rejoice over you. The Lord will sing about you because he loves you.

Thus, the joy of Zephaniah links to Christmas. You see, the real reason joy is so essential to the celebration of Jesus’ birth is because in his arrival, in the entrance of that baby born in a Bethlehem back alley, God tells us that those Zephaniah’s days of joy have come. In Jesus’ arrival, the King has come into our midst, and our sins are now forgiven. Your greatest shame, no matter what it is, can now become a cause for praise! Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God the Father has forgiven and forgotten every sin.

The truth is that so much of what we like to label as “life’s joys” are really just temporary pleasures, stuff that will come and go and stuff makes us feel good only for a moment. In his book, The Story of Joy, Adam Potkay argues that most of us really live rather miserable lives. The reason is simple. Rather than focusing on the true joy found in Jesus, which is shared among a congregation of friends and family, we sell out for lesser pleasures that are often solitary and momentary.

But at Christmas, we celebrate the arrival of real joy. Sure, you can ascribe joy to money or say it has something to do with success or even that it can come from noble things such as hugging your kids or building houses for the homeless. Those are great, but they are not real joy. Proclaiming Jesus’ birth to the shepherds standing in the field, the angel makes it clear that there is just one symbol, one sure sign, of joy. Listen to what the angel said:

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12, NIV).

That is the sign of joy. That baby born in Bethlehem. The beautiful thing is that, unlike everything else in this world, when your joy comes from Jesus, it is a joy that can never be taken from you. It’s like trying to rip a new toy from a toddler’s hands. Not gonna happen. Jesus describes the benefits of following him this way: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV).

Apart from Jesus, all the joys of life will someday be stolen, destroyed or simply die off. The money will run out, the kids will stop calling and eventually something like cancer, stroke, or heart attack will kill us. But when we’re connected to Christ, the life he gives us lasts forever. The peace he gives us surpasses all understanding and the gifts he offers — such as an ever-flowing fountain of forgiveness — will never end.

Now, this is not to say that money and possessions are bad. Nor am I saying presents, parties are wrong, or that showering grandkids in gifts that make annoying noises and drive their parents insane is a bad thing. As a grandparent I call that revenge. Just joking.

But to celebrate Christmas right, we must remember that those things are just temporary things. We remember that the spending and the giving at this time of year are not themselves a means to our joy or a sign of our joy. We should do those things with hearts that are already filled with joy. Our real joy is Jesus and that joy overflows into our lives and enables us to rejoice with others and to do what we can to help them to rejoice.

As Christians, what makes us different is not so much what we do. It’s who we do it for and where we find our joy. A Christian community gives great gifts and throws great parties and sings favorite hymns. But we do it because we are already rejoicing in Jesus. We love, we work, we sing, we play to the glory of God and in our shared joy from Jesus.

Some may see the symbol of joy in money or rupees. Others might find it in fame or pursue it with possessions. But this Christmas may we be a people who sing because the real sign has arrived. May we be a people who give to others because God has given us.

This Christmas, may we do what is often overlooked and underappreciated. Let’s join together and sing with Zephaniah, for our real joy, the babe of Bethlehem, has arrived.



Crowe, Aaron. “With ‘$’ taken, India looks for rupee symbol.” WalletPop. April 16, 2009.

Pandey, G. Indian contest for rupee symbol.


BBC News. March 5, 2009.

Potkay, Adam. The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2007.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

HOME About YARPC Sermons Prayer Center

Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

Last Modified: 02/02/13