Fourth Sunday in Advent December 19, 1999
66, 69, 72, 90
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Here ends our text.
In Christ, Who is our Christmas Joy and Rest, Dear Fellow-Redeemed,
What’s the most common phrase you hear at this time of year? What words are on everyone’s lips, from the person who hands you your mail to the person who bags your groceries? What words hang in banners on nearly every telephone pole in every town in America? That’s easy—the words, “Merry Christmas.” Everyone you talk to from now until December 25th, instead of saying “So long!” or “See you later!” will leave you with the words, “Merry Christmas.” It’s funny—they always tell you to have a merry Christmas, but they never tell you exactly how to go about it… After all, the troubles and heartaches of your life don’t go away during December, just because it’s Christmas time. You still have problems to face. Sometimes added problems because of the holidays, what with extra financial burdens, and perhaps a loneliness for loved ones who can’t be home for Christmas. Don’t you wish, for a change, that someone would tell you how to have a merry Christmas?
In our text for this morning, God does just that! Through the Apostle Paul, the Lord lays out the instructions for a truly joyful Christmas. They’re easy instructions—much easier than some of those you parents will have to follow when you put your kids’ toys together on Christmas day! Our theme this morning is:
When people tell you to “have a merry Christmas,” what are they really saying? “I hope you will rejoice this year;” “I hope you’ll be happy!” When you get down to it, that’s what everyone is looking for, isn’t it? Happiness. And not just at this time of year, either. The goal of most people’s lives is to be happy. There must be a trick to being happy, because some of the most famous people in the history of the world have failed to find it. Is happiness to be found in great wisdom? One of the greatest philosophers of all time, Voltaire, said on his deathbed, “I am lost! I am lost! I wish I had never been born!” In happiness to be found in money? Jay Gould, one of the richest men in the world, once said, “I suppose I am the most miserable devil on earth.” Is happiness to be found in pleasure? The poet Lord Byron tasted every pleasure life had to offer, and yet on his last birthday he wrote, “My days are in the yellow leaf; The flowers and fruits of love are gone; The worm, the canker, and the grief Are mine alone!”
Obviously none of these things is the key to a happy life or a merry Christmas! If you were able to experience every kind of pleasure, if you were smarter than the most intelligent college professor, if you were rich enough to buy the most expensive Christmas presents—it would never guarantee you happiness this Christmas! The trick to having a merry Christmas is what it is that makes you merry! Paul says, in our text, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand!”
The Lord is at hand! That is what you’ve got to be happy about! Christmas is almost here. Once again you’re standing on the brink of a miracle. It’s the miracle of God’s love. The fact that the Father loved us wretched sinners so much that He said goodbye to His only Son, and sent Him down to earth in the form of a lowly child. A child who would struggle and succeed at living a perfect life for you. A child who would one day suffer indescribable pain, and death, for you. A child who lifts the crushing weight of sin off your shoulders, and makes you free! That’s the miracle that you’re about to experience once again. No wonder Paul can’t help but say it twice! “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” Be happy, and have a merry Christmas—you’ve got the best reason in the world!
The first step is to rejoice, the second is to request. Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” What could be simpler than that? When you want something, ask God for it.—Very simple instructions, but they are often overlooked, even by Christians. And now is when we should especially use this privilege of prayer. Most of us have special needs around Christmas time. Unfortunately, we tend to try and supply those needs ourselves, without ever mentioning them to God. And that’s just the problem, the Apostle James says: “You do not have, because you do not ask!” James 4:2.
It’s so simple, we shouldn’t have to mention it! But I wonder how often it must happen that we fail to receive something we really want or need, just because we forgot to ask! Jesus tells us straight out, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
So maybe you’ve been wondering where the extra money you need is going to come from this Christmas. How you’re ever going to get your shopping done and finish all those cards. How you’re ever going to stand up under all the pressures of the season. For these and a thousand other needs—great and small—ASK GOD! He has promised to answer your prayers. And He’s a thousand times better at getting things done than you are. The second “R” of a merry Christmas is “REQUEST”!
A story is told about Jean Henri D’Aubine, the great historian of the Reformation. He was staying at a friend’s house, and one morning he was served kippered herring for breakfast. He asked his host what the word “kipper” meant, and was told that it meant “kept”, or “preserved”. Later, when he was asked to return thanks after the meal, he closed his prayer with the words, “…And Lord, grant that my gracious host and his whole family may be kept, preserved, and kippered. Amen!” Which brings us to the last part of our text:
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will KEEP your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The third “R” that will help you have a merry Christmas is “RELAX”. Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing.” Don’t worry! Relax! Well, that’s one of those things that’s easy to say and hard to do, especially around Christmas time, when we have so much on our minds. Everywhere you turn these days you see the word “Peace.” But how can we find real peace? The answer is that on our own we can’t find it…but God can give it! And he promises to do just that!
You no doubt recognized that passage as the one the pastor says after every sermon: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” You can relax and enjoy the advent of your Savior, because God will “keep” you. His peace will guard, preserve and protect you from all harm. Paul is telling you that, no matter what troubles and concerns you may have on your mind, everything is going to turn out OK. How can it be otherwise? Your sins are forgiven! That Child in the manger has reestablished peace, and made you right with God again! That’s the one big thing God assures us of. Everything else he throws into the bargain almost as an afterthought. Jesus says, “Do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” As a Christian, you more than anyone else can relax and enjoy Christmas. You are resting safe in the peace of God, “which surpasses all understanding!”
An ocean liner was once caught in a storm in the North Atlantic. For two days the wind raged, and the passengers became more and more frightened. Finally one brave passenger fought his way through the weather up to the bridge. He returned with the good news: “You can relax—the ship will make port just fine. I’ve seen the captain, and he is smiling!” My Christian friends, you and I can relax too, because our Captain is smiling. Christmas is when God, the Captain of our souls, smiles on us with His peace. The instructions are very simple: follow the three “R’s”—rejoice, request, relax. And have a merry Christmas! In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.