The Third Sunday of Advent December 13, 2009
62, 56, 72, 92
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 guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
In Christ Jesus, who came once at Bethlehem, who is present here today in His Word, and who will certainly come again, dear fellow Christians:
Are you ready to take a deep breath and begin the final sprint to Christmas? Are there some loose ends to tie up: a little decorating to finish, a present to buy and wrap, maybe cards to stamp and send? All these preparations are exhausting, but also exciting. We look forward to them each year. At the same time, you may already be longing for life to slip back into a more normal routine. After all, you can only cheat on sleep so long, eat so much, or travel so far before you have had enough and need to slow down and catch up.
But there is one part of Christmas which no one would grow tired of or complain about even if we had it everyday and that is the special joy. What if we could look forward to Christmas happiness in August, as well as in December; when mowing the lawn, as well as when stringing lights on the tree? Christmas joy doesn’t have to be packed away with the ornaments each year. It is there for us everyday, year-round.
There are all kinds of things to be happy about at Christmastime: presents to give and receive, time with friends and loved ones, and treats from the kitchen to sample. But none of those joys is lasting. We don’t expect them to be. Nothing on earth is. Could a million dollars under the tree make you happy? It would make me happy…for a time. But then I would worry about how to invest it, protect it, and with whom to share it. Can human wisdom and knowledge offer true happiness? It really can’t because it doesn’t have the answers to the most basic questions of life: “Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” Even the pleasures and diversions of life become tiresome and fail to bring much joy after a while. The joys of this world are like the split-second flash of a camera. It’s brilliant for an instant, but then it leaves you blinking your eyes and trying to get oriented again.
There is only one source for joy that lasts, the sunshine of the Lord. Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” [v.4] In the Greek it is even more emphatic, literally, “Keep on rejoicing—always!” Christmas joy is standing in wide-eyed awe at the manger, looking down at a real baby who is also really God and knowing that He was born as a gift from Heaven to us.
We are nothing special, just ordinary, unworthy sinners, and yet God loves us so much that He Himself came to live with us to make it possible for us to live with Him forever. Christmas joy is celebrating the Lord’s presence among us still today in His Word as we read it in our homes, call it to mind while driving or working, and as we gather around it as a congregation. Christmas joy is knowing that the Lord is near and will soon return in glory to take us home.
So keep on rejoicing in the Lord every day. One way of doing so is with “gentleness.” “Let your gentleness be known to all men.” [v.5] Often gentleness is associated with weakness and so is not thought of very highly. But this gentleness comes from a position of strength. It is someone of superior position yielding for the sake of another.
Jesus showed that kind of gentleness. Even though He is God and superior to everything and everyone, He humbled Himself. He yielded the full, rightful use of His power and glory, and instead became the servant of all. He associated with tax collectors and sinners. He did not retaliate against His enemies. He laid down His life as the sacrifice for sin for all of us.
The world doesn’t understand or care about it and so has no use for it. It’s each man for himself. A driver is not about to let someone merge into traffic ahead of him. Someone else speeds through a red light and makes others wait for him. Another is going to grab all he can of whatever he wants and find pleasure in the pain he causes others.
But we find our joy in the Lord and in His gentleness. One of the best gifts you can give this Christmas is to yield and bring mercy to whatever situation you are in. Let someone with an armload of packages step ahead of you in line even though you were there first. Tell a harried store clerk that it’s OK even when she isn’t as quick and efficient as you might like. Look around and see where you can pitch in and help others even though you are already incredibly busy yourself. Forgive, rather than demand payback for a hurt someone causes you.
Remember, we don’t have to push and shove our way through life. “Our citizenship is in heaven. We eagerly await a Savior from there” (Philippians 3:20 NIV). In the light of Heaven earthly advantages don’t seem so urgent. So Jesus says, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:41-42 NIV). Keep on rejoicing in our gentle Lord and let the joy show in gentleness to all.
But how do you keep on rejoicing every day over the long term? Let’s say you receive a brand new car for Christmas. The paint job is beautiful: a deep, rich cranberry so glossy that it looks as though the paint is still wet. It’s perfect. But what happens over the next months and years? The paint will fade in the sunlight. The finish will be marred by nicks and scratches. Rust and salt will corrode the metal.
The same daily wear and tear can take a toll on our new and shiny Christmas joy in the Lord. We come here and sing, “Joy to the World,” and for the moment we put aside everything else. But then we return to our everyday routine and responsibilities, and the joy can begin to fade and corrode. You catch a head cold, laundry piles up, the credit card billing is wrong for the third month in a row, someone doesn’t appreciate a kind gesture, and a loved one ends up in the hospital. Christmas joy begins to disappear under an avalanche of anxiety. How do you keep on rejoicing?
A sappy song lyric says: “Don’t worry, be happy! In every life we have some trouble, when you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy! Don’t worry, be happy!” But get real! How does it help to blindly go on as though the problems are not there?
St. Paul was a realist. He knew all about the difficulties of life. He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and snake-bit. Where do you think he was as he wrote the words of this letter? Sitting poolside at an Italian villa, sipping on a glass of wine? Hardly. He was being held in chains as a prisoner in Rome. Yet he wrote: “Don’t worry about anything.” But he also explained how that could be possible. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” [v.6] The antidote to joy-corroding worry is prayer. Don’t worry about anything. Pray about everything! Jesus says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27 NIV). “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 NIV). James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2 NIV).
Keep on rejoicing by beating back worry with prayer. Request, ask! Make a list of all your cares and concerns, big and little. There are no restrictions on what you can pray about or limits on the number. Is life hard? Are you stressed? Do you have problems at work, home, school? At all three? Problems with people? Money problems? Pray about them, and then cross them off the list. Do you have dreams or longings for the future? Maybe they seem so out of reach that you haven’t told anyone about them for fear that others would just laugh. Pray about it. The Lord won’t laugh. He won’t say it’s impossible. He can do anything with just a word. Christmas proves that!
When King Hezekiah of Judah was threatened by a far superior military force surrounding Jerusalem, he prayed. That night the Lord killed 185,000 enemy troops! Some time later Hezekiah fell ill and the prophet Isaiah told him he was going to die. Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall and prayed. Before Isaiah had even gotten out the door, the Lord told him to turn around and tell Hezekiah that the Lord would grant him another 15 years of life. The prayer of a believer is powerful and effective.
Pray with a joyful and thankful heart. Thank God for all His past blessings, especially the gift of Jesus. Thank Him for hearing your prayers and promising to answer every one in just the right way and time. Pray, asking that His will be done, and trusting that His answer to your requests will be one of two possibilities. Either He will say: “Yes, in my mercy and grace I will do this for you.” Or He will respond: “No, I have something better in mind.” Keep rejoicing in the Lord every day in thankful prayer.
What does it take to truly enjoy a Christmas celebration? Isn’t a big part of it being reasonably sure that all the details are taken care of and that there will not be any surprise glitches such as snow storms or flu bugs? We look for security to safeguard our joy. The Lord freely gives the very best safeguard of all for Christmas joy. “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” [v.7] Relax because God’s peace is protecting you. You can count on it because it is far stronger than manmade peace.
You may have heard about the Christmas truce of 1914. World War I was raging at the time but on Christmas Eve suddenly up and down the front lines from Belgium to France on both the German and Allied side, soldiers put down their rifles, exchanged small gifts with one another, and even played soccer. It was remarkable at the time, but it didn’t last. By Christmas afternoon the fighting had resumed and the truce was never repeated.
The peace of God is so amazing that it goes far beyond human experience and abilities. It is a truce, not between nations on earth, but a perfect peace between heaven and earth. It is the peace planned from eternity and worked out in history through Jesus’ birth, His obedient life in our behalf, and His substitutionary death which satisfied God’s justice. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 NIV).
That peace is not a passing emotion. It is an accomplished fact which nothing can ever change. Let it guard your joy. When the Devil attacks with His lies and tries to get you to doubt your salvation, God’s peace earned by Jesus on the cross is your defense. When we sin and fall flat on our faces and conscience screams in our ears that we are guilty and deserve punishment, God’s peace assures us of forgiveness. When it seems as though everything around us is changing and that people and things we once could count on now let us down, God’s peace tells us all is well and that nothing can ever separate us from His love in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 8:37ff).
When someone wishes you a “Merry Christmas,” or when you say the same to someone else, remember: Rejoice in the Lord, request His help with every worry, and relax safe and secure in His peace. In that way may this be the happiest Christmas ever, the happiest Christmas every day and always! Amen.
Oh, where shall joy be found?
Where but on heav’nly ground?
Where the angels singing
With all His saints unite,…
Sweetest praises bringing
In heav’nly joy and light….
Oh, that we were there!…
Oh, that we were there!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.