Christmas Day – 2015 LSB #’s 374, 386, 383
Text – 1 Thessalonians 5:16
Charles Dickens’s wrote a novel titled A Christmas Carol. You’ve heard of it. It’s about Ebenezer Scrooge & how his heart was changed one Christmas. It’s a story that makes us feel good because “they all lived happily ever-after.”
But the lines from another novel by Mr. Dickens more accurately describe the way Christmas feels for most of us. He begins A Tale of Two Cities with these infamous words:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”
Christmas is also a time of contrasts. It is a time of prosperity & a time of poverty. It is a season of good will & a season of ugly greed. Christmas is a time of family togetherness yet also a time of excruciating loneliness. It is a season of light & it is a season of darkness. Christmas is the spring of hope & Christmas is the winter of acute despair. PAUSE
Don’t get me wrong. We all want Christmas to be the best of times. That’s why we decorate & donate & shop ’til we drop. We put up trees, hang tinsel, cook turkeys & put together all kinds of toys. We want a jolly, holly Christmas. But let’s be honest. As much as we want Christmas to be the best of times, sometimes it is the worst of times.
Some of us have spent too much money, again, & we’re worried sick about our financial future. Others are struggling with their health, or the health of a loved one – wondering if this might be their last Christmas on earth. Some are wrestling with old hurts that won’t heal & new wounds that just won’t go away. Still others are missing loved ones this Christmas – either because of distance or death or by cruel design. That’s why the text from 1 Thessalonians can seem so out of place, so artificial. “Rejoice evermore.” Really?
Paul, just what is there to rejoice about? Isn’t Christmas just a fantasy in a season of fantasies? Isn’t Christmas about as real as sugar plum fairies, old St. Nick & Jack Frost knocking at your door?
And even if Christmas joy is real, it’s for other people, not for me. I’ve got problems that no one else can relate to. My parents had a lot of hang ups & passed all of them on to me. My siblings? We don’t get along all that well, especially this time of the year. My job is a hassle. My marriage is on the rocks, & it’s too late to do anything about this mess I call my life.
How dare Paul say, “Rejoice evermore”?
This morning I’m here to tell you why. Paul knew about the angelic announcement, “I bring you good news of great joy.” Not for some of the people. Not for the good people. Not for the religious people. No. This is “good news of great joy for all the people.” Joy is the gift Christ gives to everyone, & He gives it especially to you.
Please hear what I’m about to say. It’s very important. There’s huge difference between happiness & joy. They are not synonymous terms. External gifts like health & wealth & family are awesome blessings from God. They make us happy. But – & this is a big but – they are not essential for joy.
Why is that? First off, happiness is determined by what’s going on around me. I can’t control that. Joy is determined by what’s going on inside of me. And God has taken control of that. He sent His Son Jesus who didn’t have a lot of reasons for earthly happiness. He didn’t become an emperor, a statesman, a general or an investment banker. He was born in an animal feeding trough to a blue collar father & a teenage mother. As an adult Jesus had no home: “Foxes have holes & birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20) Jesus was as an itinerant preacher & washed feet. Those have never been the key to making it big.
And then this: “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself & became obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8) Death on the cross was reserved for slaves, thieves & murderers – the lowest of the low. They ripped His skin, burst His arteries & severed His nerves. It brought unimaginable pain.
In spite of it all, Jesus exuded joy. Poverty couldn’t take it away. Disappointment & rejection couldn’t take it away. Even death on a cross was not able to take away His joy. Hebrews 12:2 says as much, “. . . who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.”
What does it all mean? No matter what your life may be like right now, this one great truth makes everything worthwhile: Jesus Christ was born to die for you. From His cross He freely gives joy; unlimited, undeniable & unending joy. And it is for you. How can I be so sure? The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Jesus once said, “No one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22) Why is that? I spoke about it earlier. Happiness is determined by what is going on around me. I can’t control that. Joy is determined by what is going on inside of me. And God has taken control of that by sending Jesus who is the doorway to deliverance, the pathway to peace, & the gateway to glory.
His mercy is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His love never changes. His grace is sufficient. His word is enough, & His reign is righteous forevermore! No one will, & no one is able, to take this joy from you! Joy stems the tide of gloom & despair. It brings confidence in the midst of confusion; hope in the midst of uncertainty & calm in the midst of life’s chaotic storms. But please, don’t confuse happiness & joy. They are not the same thing. There are happy Christmases & there are sad Christmases. That depends on what is happening around us.
Joy, on the other hand, is dependent upon what is happening in us. The birth of Jesus is God’s commitment to all people, that He will send the Holy Spirit to heal our hurts, forgive our filth & redeem our wretchedness.
Whether today is for you the best of times or the worst of times, the birth of Jesus – announced by the angels, witnessed by the shepherds & marveled at by the magi – leaves us finally with only one response. St. Paul wrote what that would be. Think of this as wondering what’s in that present under the tree, & then opening it to discover great joy.
The one response that is totally & always appropriate to the birth of our Savior is this, “Rejoice evermore!” Amen.
Now sing we, now rejoice, now raise to heaven our voice; He from whom joy streameth Poor in a manger lies; not so brightly beameth the sun in yonder skies. Thou my Savior art!
Thou my Savior art! Come from on high to me; I cannot rise to Thee cheer my wearied spirit, O pure & holy Child; through Thy grace & merit, blest Jesus, Lord most mild, Draw me unto Thee! Draw me unto Thee! Oh, where shall joy be found? Where but on heavenly ground? Where the angels singing with all His saints unite, sweetest praises bringing in heavenly joy & light. Oh, that we were there! Oh, that we were there! Amen.
 Luke 2:10
 Luke 2:10
Pastor Dean R. Poellet