Summary: on what is really important about christmas and how we lose our merriness in the xmas season.
December 7, 2003 Philippians 4:4-7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Our living room has a six foot plastic tree sitting against a barren wall. Tristan and I put it up hastily on Sunday night after he got home from Norton. In our basement, a host of ornaments are calling from the box in the storage room, “let me free! Let me free!” Next to them there’s also a couple of four foot lighted trees that need to be put up outside. Underneath the plastic tree there isn’t a whole lot of anything, which reminds me of what we’re supposed to be doing in the next few weeks. However, when I look at our living room table and this month’s calendar, I see that it is full of many other responsibilities that need to be done first. As I look at these daily reminders of deadlines I think to myself, “there’s too much to do!” So when I do take the time to look at the TV, and see cookie cutter families running around in their perfectly fit Christmas sweaters and drinking their café latte’s - saying to each other, “Merry Christmas,” a part of me wants to say - “what’s so merry about it? I’ve got too much stuff to get done!” It’s an honest question - one that Paul answers in today’s text.
What Will It Take For You to Have a “Merry” Christmas?
How would you initially answer that question? Personally, if I had everything done ahead of time, and had plenty of energy to go to all of the functions with good health, I would say I could then have a “Merry Christmas.” In order to get everything “done”, we already decided to give ourselves less to do, by buying less presents and trying to simplify the season. But even with that, with a funeral and the flu having run through our lives, we once again find ourselves behind on our deadlines and stressed out. So it still seems like it’s going to be hard to really “enjoy” Christmas this year again. Do you feel the same way? No matter how prepared we seem to be, there always seems to be more on our plate than we want - so we can never sit down and actually enjoy anything. It’s kind of ironic that with all of the creature comforts that we’ve created for ourselves - electric massages, vibrating chairs, heated blankets, PDA’s and palm pilots and everything else - we’re more stressed today than ever!
Paul’s suggestion for really “enjoying” Christmas and every other time of our life has an even more drastic simplification process. Paul was writing this letter from his first imprisonment in Rome. He was awaiting the hearing of his appeal to the emperor and then the emperor’s verdict - from which he expected to be set free. It wasn’t as bad as his second imprisonment, where he had to ask Timothy to bring a cloak to him. Yet nonetheless he probably spent a period of about two years in prison, from A.D. 61 to 63. Prison is prison, and Paul was by no means enjoying a summer vacation in Rome. Having been stripped of his traveling capabilities and many of his possessions, Paul wouldn’t have had many reasons to rejoice. Yet it was Paul who encouraged the Philippians to “rejoice” for one simple reason. What does he say? Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Paul says to rejoice in the Lord. A lord is literally - to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has power of deciding. Instead of rejoicing in things that you can buy and call your own, rejoice in the fact that you are owned - that you belong to someone - but not just anyone - the Lord - Jesus Christ. When you were baptized and the minister said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” God was putting His name on you. He was announcing to Satan, you, and the world - that you are now HIS property. Since you now belong to Him, you now have special gifts and special privileges. First of all, you have the righteousness and holiness of Jesus Christ! His perfection is given to you and covers you! In God’s eyes - you are literally IN Christ - wrapped up in His blood and righteousness. Second of all, the Lord is IN you! You get the gift of the Holy Spirit and the faith that clings to Christ! (Acts 2:38) As a result of this, the devil can no longer enter you! Through the Word of God - he and your sinful nature can no longer tell you what to do! (Romans 6!) Now, since you are in Christ and the Holy Spirit is in you, as God’s child, the Father directs all of the affairs of this world to benefit your spiritual well being! (Romans 8) He gives you preferential treatment - nothing - absolutely nothing - happens without His permission and purpose. He promises you a lifetime of eternal pleasures at his side! You have now stepped in to the household of God! What a pleasure and a privilege this is! Rejoice in it. That’s why Paul could still rejoice. Even while languishing in prison, he still knew God owned him and he still was going to heaven.