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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Choosing Joy at Christmas


The Christmas season is one that is filled with calls to rejoice, and to sing carols like, “Joy to the World!”  As you saw in the last blog, though, for some individuals, it may feel anything BUT joyful!  From the beginning joy is central to the Nativity, perhaps expressed best in the angel’s call of Luke 2:10--

 “ But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (NASB)

That is a wonderful sounding ideal, but is it realistic for those who, perhaps through no choice of their own, are finding themselves facing a “Blue Christmas” this year?  Or could it be that joy is to be found and expressed, even in the bluest times of our lives?  When Jesus grew up, he made a point to tell us that the very words he spoke to us, and the prayers he answers are designed to give us not just joy, but joy made full! How is that relevant when everything in life seems to conspire to take all the joy out of living?

Paul picked up on the same concept of joy, issuing to us a charge to live in joy always.  Here are a couple of references that say this:  

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  (NASB)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”  --Philippians 4:4  (NASB)

Notice that he doesn’t describe joy as something we passively receive in life.  Rather, he indicates that we have a choice in the matter, that we choose to rejoice, to express joy, to live in joy, to focus on joy, to share joy, and he says it is something we are to do ALWAYS!  Obviously, he doesn’t have a clue about how hard life can be sometimes, and how much these things can get you down, right?  Wrong.  When Paul wrote the Philippians verse, he was sitting in a Roman prison under arrest, soon to be facing execution.  He expresses in his writings that he had suffered beatings, rejection, imprisonments and shipwrecks, poverty and almost anything else life can throw at us, and yet he continues to admonish us to rejoice!

Let’s go back to where we started.  Christmas from the very beginning was designed as a cause for great joy.  Why? Because the Son of God has come to earth to dwell with us and to teach us the ways of God and to give his life as our Savior so that we could be set free from sin and its penalty.  No matter what comes into our lives, no matter what reversals we experience, the facts of the coming of Christ and the purchase of salvation never change.  That is the cause of joy, that is the source of joy, that is the constant in life for which we are called to always rejoice.   Jesus addressed this same issue after sending his disciples out to do ministry on his behalf, and when they bring their report of all the great things that happened as they went, Jesus words to them were:

“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”  --Luke 10:20  (NASB)

You see, Jesus is describing the key to joy in life, the joy that remains no matter how much life changes, no matter how many difficult and discouraging experiences come our way.  The disciples came back joyful and excited about all the things they had seen God do, including their experience of authority of evil spirits just as Jesus had been doing.  But Jesus challenged them to adjust their focus, to not rejoice on the things here on earth that are so subject to change and variation, but to rejoice that their names are on the rolls of heaven.  If you are letting the blues get you down too much, perhaps you, too, are focusing on the wrong things as your source of joy.

When we give our lives to Christ, accept him as our Savior and the forgiveness he offers through his sacrifice on the cross for our sin, that is the day our names are written on those heavenly records in permanent ink!  Our health may change, our relationships may change, our circumstances may change, all of which can affect our emotional state, turning our happiness into sorrow or worry.  But our joy is not based on any of the changing things of earth.  Our joy is based on the fact that our names are written in heaven.  When things are hard, remember that promise.  When everything seems to work against you, remember that you have One who is for you in all eternity.  When you despair of life here, remember that it is but a breath of time compared to the real and beautiful life that awaits there.  Our emotions can affect our attitudes and our outlook and our energy…but they have nothing to do with the joy that we can count on as we rejoice that our names are written by our Savior on his palm forever.  

No matter what you face, happy times and sad times, times of prosperity and times of need, times of comfort and times of adversity, don’t let those things distract you from your real source of joy. Remember the angel’s call to the shepherds, which is also God’s call to you and to me today:

“ But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (NASB)

And then, go about your daily life and rejoice!

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