Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - Joy in Christ Jesus

As the nights become longer and colder, I tend to find myself enjoying the comfort of my easychair. Around my legs, I have a blanket and electric throw to keep me nice and warm. It is during this moment that I begin to recall the Christmases past. I think about the anticipation leading up to that glorious day of presents for my brother and myself. Neither of us could wait for that day and we, like other children, counted down the days. We were so eager for the joy of discovering the gifts that Santa had delivered to us and what gifts our parents gave us.

Over time, I began to realize something. My brother and I had not bought our parents gifts. Sure, we made our gifts in school, but we did not buy them for our parents. We made coffee mugs out of ceramic clay that looked like anything but coffee mugs. We made construction paper Nativity scenes with paper, glue, popsicle sticks, cotton balls and glitter that, like the coffee mugs, looked like other things rather than what was intended. Those were our gifts to our parents.

On Christmas Day, my brother and I would dive head first into the pile of presents under the Christmas tree. We would be ripping open the presents that were lovingly encased in paper. It was fun to pile up all of the paper and sit in the middle of it as we continued to open one gift after another. But, there was one thing we did not notice as children. Our Mother and Father had no gifts under the tree. In time, I learned why.

My parents, wanting to make sure that their children had a wonderful Christmas and they got everything they wanted, did not buy gifts for one another. They gave up giving each other gifts so that my brother and I could have the best Christmas ever. Each year seemed tougher and tougher to top, but, at least for that moment, their children enjoyed their gifts.

When my brother and I got older and had some income, we bought gifts for our parents, work gloves for Dad and slippers for Mom. The gifts we gave did not even come near the gifts we received each year. But, there was one thing I could say about their response. They were overjoyed by our gifts whether it was the ceramic “coffee mug”, construction paper Nativity scene or the gloves and slippers.

After I had gotten married, my wife and I learned the joy of Christmas as parents. Parents do not derive our joy from presents and having cars sitting in the driveway with big red bows on them. Our joy came from seeing the face of our dear sweet little girl opening her gifts and enjoying the gifts that we had purchased for her. Although my wife and I bought gifts for one another, they did not compare to the size and number of the gifts our daughter received. Our joy was complete in knowing that she had the best Christmas ever.

This year has been an incredibly hard year for us. Because of my illness and the burden of my medical bills, my wife and I have had to cut back on Christmas with one exception, our daughter’s gifts. We wanted to make sure that she received another greatest Christmas ever. So, my wife and I will not be exchanging gifts for the first time in our married lives. 

It was a hard decision to make for us. We both wanted to give each other something even if it was small and inexpensive, but we promised that this Christmas would belong to our daughter and that we would not compromise on that joy for her. So, like my parents, my wife’s parents and many other parents, we do not have gifts under the tree for each other. It was a painful decision to make, but we also realized that the true joy of Christmas is not in the tree, tinsel or lights. It is in the eyes of our one and only daughter. The magical look in her eyes that we had seen so many Christmases gave us joy, unspeakable and complete joy. It is a joy that cannot be put in a box and wrapped. It is a gift that brings us great joy.

The shepherds in the fields on the night of Jesus’ birth received something wonderful that brought them great joy. The angel of the Lord came to them and told them about the birth of the Christ child and where he could be found. The angel, in Luke 2, tells those simple, poor shepherds, “10 Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

We cannot even imagine what joy they felt in their hearts when they heard this news from an angel of the Lord and then a multitude of angels saying, “14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

The angel further tells them, “12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” The son of God, the word that became flesh, was not born in a hospital or a fancy hotel. He was born to parents whose only mode of transportation was a donkey and not a fancy car with a red ribbon on it. 

As I continue to look at the sparkling lights of our Christmas tree and see all of the gifts for our daughter, I am filled with joy, a joy similar to the joy of the shepherds. Joy does not come in a box with a bow. It comes in a small body of a child who started his life in a stable and had no crib for a bed. His bed was an animal feeding trough. But, that one gift to us transformed our lives and it became and remains the best and greatest Christmas gift ever.

Joy is where you find it. If you look hard enough and long enough you will find joy even in the most difficult of times. As my wife and I continue to deal with all of the problems of my medical bills and my continued illness, we have joy, because we found it in the small body of a child given not only to us but also to the entire world. He embodies God’s love and mercy and came into this dark world to bring it light. He came into this sinful world not to judge it, but, rather, to save it.

Several weeks ago, I was standing in line while buying our weekly groceries. Normally, I would be scanning the covers of the magazines there at the checkout line, but something in my heart told me to find my joy, my Christmas joy. The voice told me that if I looked hard enough and sought after it, I would find it. As sure as God made little green apples, I found my Christmas joy. 

Sitting quietly in a chewing gum display box was a baby Jesus that was part of a Nativity scene. It was silently waiting to share its message of hope to all those who looked hard enough and sought after it. I was speechless and my eyes filled with tears as I began to put the groceries on the conveyor belt. I had received my Christmas gift early. Needless to say, I will always remember that moment and gift as my greatest Christmas ever. No matter what happens in my life, nobody, not even Satan himself, can take that away from me. There is no illness or circumstance that can cause me to forget the joy of this small child’s birth and what he has done in my life to give me a future and a hope.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, used the words joy and rejoice sixteen times in four chapters. Even after enduring everything he went through, Paul found joy, a joy that this dark, sinful world could never understand or give. Paul tells the Philippians in chapter 2, “2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

If you have not found your Christmas joy this season, look hard and search diligently for it. If you do, I can guarantee that you will find it. By loving one another and putting others above ourselves, we have the same mindset as Jesus, the perfecter of our faith and our gift from God. Once you find that Christmas joy, you can stand firm in HIs grace.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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