“The Difference Christmas Makes: The Attitude of Christmas”
The words are so familiar: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Because of Christmas, our attitude should be one of joy. So, what is your joy quotient? How joyful – how consistently joyful – are you? If the birth of Jesus brought joy, why is it so tough to be joyful?
Ps. 126 points us in a helpful direction. The center of the Psalm, verse 4, is A PRAYER OF RECOGNITION. “Restore our fortunes, LORD,
like streams in the Negev.” The Israelites had been living in a joyless world and were SEEKING RESTORATION. So the Psalmist acknowledged that the world and life were not what they were meant to be. Their years of slavery, wandering, and captivity had sucked away their joy; they had little reason to laugh.
In some ways our age is not much different. We, too, long for joy. That’s why our age can be called ‘The Entertainment Age.’ The burgeoning entertainment industry is a sign of a searching, bored society. Professional athletes, and actors and actresses are paid millions of dollars to entertain us. The varied strands of entertainment may amuse us, but all the while ENTERTAINMENT DIVERTS OUR ATTENTION from the issues that rob us of joy. As Eugene Peterson wrote, “Society is a bored, gluttonous king employing a court jester to divert it after an overindulgent meal.” (i)
The first robber of our joy is that we think joy is a commodity up for sale. But WE CANNOT PURCHASE OR EARN JOY. Joy is not a product to purchase but a by-product of an attitude. That’s why James could write (James 1:2), “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” It’s why Paul could write (Phil. 4:4 NLT) “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!”
A second robber of joy is that OUR HEARTS ARE FILLED WITH ANXIETY. It is significant that immediately after Paul said to rejoice in all things, he said “Do not be anxious about anything…” And it was Jesus who said (Mt. 6:25) “Do not worry about you life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” It is hard to be joyful when we live in a state of worry. And whatever joy our entertainment brings does not change us or get inside us – it does not touch the root cause of our joylessness – our worry. All it does is divert our attention form the source of our joylessness.
So we need restoration. As Peterson stated, “But there is something we can do. We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God, and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to center ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab.” (ii)
The Psalmist tells us we begin to center ourselves in God whenever we walk A PATHWAY OF REMEMBRANCE. (1-3) “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” The Israelites renewal of joy began as they RECALLED THEIR HISTORY. When they did they remembered how their national woes were replaced with national deliverances. They went from slavery to freedom, from 40 years wandering in the wilderness to the Promised Land, from 20 years under Canaanite rule to freedom under Deborah, from 7 years under the Midianites to freedom under Gideon, from living in fear of Goliath to living in confidence with David, and from Babylonian captivity to freedom under King Cyrus. EACH REVERSAL WAS DEEMED IMPOSSIBLE – UNTIL GOD TOOK CHARGE. There was no way it could happen, but then it did. Israel was the only nation in such captivity to ever return and rebuild. As they recalled their history they recognized that it was God who restored them and their fortunes. “…we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”
Quoting Peterson again, “Joy has a history. Joy is the verified, repeated experience of those involved in what God is doing. It is as real as a date in history, as solid as a stratum of rock in Palestine. Joy is nurtured by living in such a history, building on such a foundation.” (iii) So it is good for us to RECALL OUR HISTORY. As someone said, “God gives us memories so we can have roses in December.” God acts in our lives repeatedly so during the tough times we can recall His reversals. Think about your life. Reflect on how God has brought you from guilt to forgiveness, from troubles to peace, from defeat to victory, from doubt to faith, from disappointment to exhilaration, from despair to hope, from illness to health, from loss to gain. How often did you consider a reversal impossible, only to experience God taking charge?
Yet as we recall our history we come to recognize that even if we haven’t experienced any of these reversals, there is one more that tops the list: God has brought us from death to life. In the 10th chapter of Luke we read of Jesus sending out 72 men to preach, teach, and heal. Luke shares the results of their ministries beginning in verse 17: “When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!” “Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning! Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”” JOY IS NOT ROOTED IN WHAT GOD DOES THROUGH US BUT IN WHAT HE’S DONE FOR US. He has saved us. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” That’s the difference Christmas makes.
As we walk the pathway of remembrance we begin to once again experience THE POWER OF RESTORATION. (5-6) “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” RESTORATION IS A PROMISE OF GOD. Over time God transforms the situations of our lives. So it was with these Israelites – their captivity had been great but their deliverance was even greater. They went from exile to ecstasy, from banishment to bliss. In His time, that’s always what God does for His people. Remember Jesus talking with his disciples the night before his crucifixion? They were deeply concerned about His ‘going away.’ (John 16:19-22): “Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, "Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, `In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me'? I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” So maybe you’re tired and teary because your life is making no progress, you have all you can do to stay even – let alone get ahead; maybe your life is bearing no fruit; or you’re worried about your children; or you’re wrestling with unanswered prayers. Believe this: God will work in His time; He will transform tears of sorrow into songs of joy.
How can we be sure? Because by doing so GOD IS HONORED. “Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’” As John Milton penned, “Let us with a gladsome mind, Praise the Lord, for he is kind; For his mercies aye endure, Ever faithful, ever sure.” God will turn our thoughts away from ourselves to Himself – and one of the surest ways to do it is to transform our tears of sorrow into songs of joy. God will work in His time; He will transform tears of sorrow into songs of joy.
The Psalmist also states that RESTORATION IS THE PARTNER OF PERSEVERANCE. The reversal of fortunes and situations, according to the Psalmist, comes to those who sow and go out. Joy does not come to those who sit and wait; it comes as we are involved in serving Jesus Christ. Joy comes to us as we PLUNGE BY FAITH INTO GOD’S WORKS – even when it’s tough to do so, even when it’s done with tears, sorrow, and difficulty. Habakkuk 3:17-18 is a wonderful passage. The prophet is pondering all the calamity that has occurred, or could occur (GNT): “Even though the fig trees have no fruit and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no grain, even though the sheep all die and the cattle stalls are empty…” Here’s how Habakkuk might say it today: “Though the farming industry collapses, though the stock market crashes, though the automobile industry goes belly-up, though the technological industries explode, though all of these things happen...” (iv) And what did Habakkuk say he would do? (v. 19) “I will still be joyful and glad, because the LORD God is my savior.” Restoration is the partner of perseverance.
When the London Missionary society sent Robert Mofatt to Africa, seven years passed with no converts reported; the home office began to think the mission should be closed. But undaunted, Moffatt sent a message asking for a Communion Set. By the time it reached him there were converts ready to celebrate their salvation through Jesus. “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” Restoration is the partner of perseverance.
Thirdly Paul and Jesus teach that RESTORATION IS ALSO A PRODUCT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Paul lists it as a fruit of the Spirit, and Jesus addresses it in John 15. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples... I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
It’s important to note three things. First, THE JOY JESUS WANTS TO SEE IN US IS HIS JOY. Second, HE WANTS HIS JOY TO REMAIN IN US. Third, HE WANTS OUR JOY TO BE FULL. And it can all happen if we ‘abide in Him’ – if we not only maintain but continue to build our relationship with Him, if we live in obedience and love. Continuing in John 15: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” Karl Menninger, the late psychiatrist, was asked what someone should do who feels on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His advice? "Lock your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need and do something for him." (v)
Well, you say, I’ve invited Jesus into my life and I don’t have this joyful attitude. Maybe it’s time for you to ENTER INTO JESUS’ LIFE. Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, reflected on his visit to a church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti nearly a year after the devastating earthquake. The church's building consisted of a tent made from white tarps and duct tape, pitched in the midst of a sprawling camp for thousands of people still homeless from the earthquake. This is how he describes the church and the lesson he learned in Haiti: “In the front row sat six amputees ranging in age from 6 to 60. They were clapping and smiling as they sang song after song and lifted their prayers to God. The worship was full of hope … [and] with thanksgiving to the Lord. No one was singing louder or praying more fervently than Demosi Louphine, a 32-year-old unemployed single mother of two. During the earthquake, a collapsed building crushed her right arm and left leg. After four days both limbs had to be amputated. She was leading the choir, leading prayers, standing on her prosthesis and lifting her one hand high in praise to God .… Following the service, I met Demosi's two daughters, ages eight and ten. The three of them now live in a tent five feet tall and perhaps eight feet wide. Despite losing her job, her home, and two limbs, she is deeply grateful because God spared her life on January 12th last year … "He brought me back like Lazarus, giving me the gift of life," says Demosi … [who] believes she survived the devastating quake for two reasons: to raise her girls and to serve her Lord for a few more years. It makes no sense to me as an "entitled American" who grouses at the smallest inconveniences—a clogged drain or a slow wi-fi connection in my home. Yet here in this place, many people who had lost everything … expressed nothing but praise. I find my own sense of charity for people like Demosi inadequate. They have so much more to offer me than I to them. I feel pity and sadness for them, but it is they who might better pity me for the shallowness of my own walk with Christ.” (vi)
Restoration of joy is a promise of God, a partner of perseverance, and a product of the Holy Spirit. Joy comes as we enter into Jesus’ life – a life that isn’t boring or purposeless, but rather wild and exhilarating and unpredictable. (vii) I invite you this morning to plunge into Jesus’ life so your joy can be full – and experience the difference Christmas makes.
(i) Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL., © (ii) 1980 by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of the United States, p. 92
(iii) Ibid, p. 93
(iv) Ibid, p. 95
(v) Excerpt From: Sproul, R.C. “Can I Have Joy in My Life?.” Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012. iBooks.
(vi) Quoted by Bruce Larson in A Call to Holy Living. Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 13.
(vii) Richard Stearns, "Suffering and Rejoicing in a Haitian Tent Camp," Christianitytoday.com (1-12-11)
(viii) Russell Moore, A Purpose Driven Cosmos, Christianity Today (Feb. 2012)