Learning to Rejoice This Christmas
If there is a single word that describes what Christmas is all about, it’s the little word “joy.” Several of our favorite carols mention it: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,” “Shepherds, why this jubilee, why your joyous strains prolong?” “Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice,” “Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies, with th’ angelic host proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem.’”
I wonder how many of us feel joyful this morning? It’s not hard to feel joy when you come to church and sing these wonderful songs. But it’s not always easy to feel joyful. William Willimon, Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, says that joy can be a challenge to the church. Sometimes all we do is talk about the imperatives of life: Do this, don’t do that. You can walk away from church pretty depressed some days.
Part of our problem is that we’ve got the wrong idea about joy. We tend to connect it with happiness and think that joy depends on our circumstances. You can’t have joy by going from one party to another or frantically racing through the shopping mall.1
Enjoying Christmas is more than just receiving the presents. It is more than listening to wonderful songs that are played for one month out of the year. Enjoying Christmas is more than watching a series of Hallmark Christmas movies. Let me share with you seven reasons to rejoice this Christmas. Each point begins with the first letter that spells out REJOICE. The central theme of Christmas is joy. So let us see how joy can be the source of our Christmas celebration.
SEVEN REASONS TO REJOICE THIS CHRISTMAS2
Recognize God and His role in my life (Psalm 92:1)
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High,” (Psalm 92:1, CSB)
Christmas is a time for giving thanks. Being thankful is part of having joy in your life. The joy that God gives is directly related to giving thanks to Him.
Joy starts with recognizing God’s role my life. There is a direct relationship between joy and the recognition of God’s role in my life.
Dr. John Piper states in his book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist the following connection between joy and God:
“Our quest is not merely joy. It is joy in God. And there is no way for a Christian to consciously manifest the infinite worth and beauty of God without delighting in him. It is better to say that we pursue our joy in God than to simply say that we pursue God. For one can pursue God in ways that do not honor him. … The enjoyment of God and the glorification of God are one.”34
Express my worship to God publicly (Psalm 92:2-3)
“to declare your faithful love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, with a ten-stringed harp and the music of a lyre.” (Psalm 92:2–3, CSB)
When I realize God’s role in my life, and I see the joy that it brings, I express that joy in worship.
The ways that the psalmist decides to express his joy at God’s love in His life is by playing music and singing in worship to God – daily.
One of the ways you can express joy to God this Christmas is to worship.
There is a difference between worshiping Christmas and Christ. Worshiping Christmas is when we place the traditions and the activities of Christmas in higher regard and value than Christ. Here is what I mean:
If are looking forward to getting more physical presents than being in God’s presence, then you are worshiping Christmas.
If you value the importance of being with your family who comes to visit than the church family, then you are worshiping Christmas.
If you long for the joy that comes with holly, the pine, the decorations, the lights, and the atmosphere of Christmas more than the joy of the birth of Jesus, then you are worshiping Christmas.
To rejoice this Christmas means that I make an effort to spend time worshiping Jesus Christ, and not Christmas.
Joy is part of God’s design for me (Psalm 92:4-5)
“For you have made me rejoice, Lord, by what you have done; I will shout for joy because of the works of your hands. How magnificent are your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts!” (Psalm 92:4–5, CSB)
The reason I can rejoice this Christmas is that joy is part of God’s design for me. He made me value joy. But joy part of God’s DNA. C.S. Lewis noted in his book Mere Christianity the relationship between joy or happiness and God5:
“A car is made to run on petrol [gas], and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
Here, the psalmist reminds us that joy comes from what God has done for us. As a result, Sons do not inherit joy from their fathers. Instead, God transfers joy to His children. God is the source of joy, just as He is the source of love.
Other people can never understand God’s joy in my life (Psalm 92:6-7)
“A stupid person does not know, a fool does not understand this: though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be eternally destroyed.” (Psalm 92:6–7, CSB)
That is why some people will never understand the joy of the Lord. There will be people who won’t understand why you are so happy sometimes.
Intruders can never steal God’s joy in my life (Psalm 92:8-9)
“But you, Lord, are exalted forever. For indeed, Lord, your enemies— indeed, your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered.” (Psalm 92:8–9, CSB)
Because they don’t understand, you want to make sure that they don’t steal your joy.
If joy comes from God, then no man can take it away. You may encounter people or circumstances that can get you down. And you may feel discouraged from time to time. But you need a reminder that no one can steal your joy.
Because God will destroy your enemies. He will scatter them. Instead of worrying about these people and letting them steal your joy, you need to concentrate on the positive.
Consider the victories that God has revealed in the valleys (92:10-11)
“You have lifted up my horn like that of a wild ox; I have been anointed with the finest oil. My eyes look at my enemies; when evildoers rise against me, my ears hear them.” (Psalm 92:10–11, CSB)
The best way to focus on the positive in your life during Christmas is to consider the victories that God has revealed in the valleys. Twice in this psalm, the psalmist is reminded of how God has provided. He has lifted the psalmist up and given him victory. That is what “exalted my horn” means. But God doesn’t stop there. God has lavished favor on the psalmist. That is what the “anointing with the finest oil” means. So even though you have gone through a valley, you need to know that God has provided a victory for you. Even when you are looking the enemy in the eye, you need to know that God can provide you with the victory. That is what the joy of God is about. The world tells you to look down when the situation is hard. God tells you to look up.
Enjoy the preciousness of God’s provision in my life (Psalm 92:12-15)
“The righteous thrive like a palm tree and grow like a cedar tree in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they thrive in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, healthy and green, to declare: “The Lord is just; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”” (Psalm 92:12–15, CSB)
Palm trees thrive in dry places. Also, the palm is the only tree that produces more and more fruit the older it gets. This means that, even through dry times, the righteous produce more fruit the older they get.6
But taking root is necessary for growth. If you are going to experience true joy, you need to have deep roots in your faith. That is why being part of a church is so necessary. Your connection to people of faith in worship, not just at a distance is what people need.
You never see people celebrate Christmas willingly over social media. If people are celebrating Christmas with others, they want to be together with someone. Because they know that joy is a community event. You spend time enjoying with other people. That is one reason why we celebrate here in this building together for Christmas Eve. We are taking time to enjoy this Christmas season with others.
Have you planted yourself in a local church? If you haven’t, it’s to your benefit to get connected to one. This is one of the most important steps to discovering and living out the call of God in your life.
Many people today don’t like the church. They don’t see the importance of gathering together with other believers, or they are jaded from bad experiences within the church. We know from Scripture, however, that the church is Jesus’ idea and He is the one building it.
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18, CSB)
Jesus works through us to accomplish this building, giving us the ability, grace, and supernatural power, but He still needs willing and obedient vessels.7
“The hope of the righteous is joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” (Proverbs 10:28, CSB)
It looked like Stella Thornhope would be alone at Christmas. Her husband had died of cancer a few months before. Now she was snowed in. She decided not to bother with decorating the house.
Late that afternoon, the doorbell rang. It was a delivery boy with a box. He asked her to sign for the package. After she did, she asked, “What’s in the box?” The young man opened the box. Inside was a little puppy, a golden Labrador retriever. The delivery boy picked up the squirming pup and said, “This is for you, ma’am. He’s six weeks old, completely housebroken.”
“Who sent this?” Thornhope asked.
The young man set the animal down and handed her an envelope and said, “It’s all explained here, ma’am. The dog was bought last July while its mother was still pregnant. It was meant to be a Christmas gift to you.” The young man then handed her a book, How to Care for Your Labrador Retriever.
She again asked, “Who sent this puppy?”
As the young man turned to leave, he said, “Your husband, ma’am. Merry Christmas.”
She opened the letter from her husband. He had written it three weeks before he died and left it with the kennel owners to be delivered with the puppy at Christmas. Her husband admonished her to be strong and said he was waiting for the day when she would join him. He had sent her this young animal to keep her company until then.
She picked up the golden furry ball and held it to her neck. Then she looked out the window at the lights that outlined the neighbor’s house. Suddenly she felt the most amazing sensation of peace. Her heart felt a wonder greater than the grief and loneliness.
“Little fella,” she said to the dog, “It’s just you and me. But you know what? There’s a box down in the basement that’s got a little Christmas tree in it and some decorations and some lights that are going to impress you. And there’s a manger scene down there. Let’s go get it.”
God has a way of sending signals to remind us that life is stronger than death, and light more powerful than darkness. Open the Book and reach for the joy.8
So live with the expectation of joy in your life. Enjoy what God provides for you this Christmas.
1 Ray Pritchard, “Christmas Joy,” Luke 2:8-11, 21 December 1997, Internet, Keep Believing Ministries, https://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1997-12-21-Christmas-Joy/, accessed on 23 December 2017.
2 Jim Erwin, “7 Reasons to REJOICE This Christmas,” 23 December 2017, Internet, Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2017/12/23/7-reasons-rejoice-christmas/, accessed on 23 December 2017.
3 John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah, 1986), 225–26.
4 James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 756.
5 Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), 407. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Macmillan, 1952).
6 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume Two: Psalms-Malachi (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 118.
7 John Bevere, Driven by Eternity: 40-Day Devotional (Road Racine, WI: Broadstreet, 2016), 130.