The Gift of Joy

Pastor Ken Gast

Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV) 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 every situation, 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.

“Merry Christmas”. How often will we hear someone wish us a “Merry Christmas” or will we wish someone a “Merry Christmas” in the these days before Christmas. Surely they are well intended wishes. We will also receive cards and Christmas letters wishing the same. However, there is no way we can absolutely guarantee that those well-meant wishes will come true. There is one who can guarantee joy at Christmas and any other time of the year despite all the joy thieves out there. He gives us his recipe for joy that will turn out right every time, if we will follow that recipe. We turn to Paul’s words inspired by the Holy Spirit in Galatians 4:4-7. (Read it) So this word of our God today, as we focus on “Jesus Came Bearing the Gift of Joy”, bears this encouraging truth, GOD GUARANTEES A MERRY CHRISTMAS. I. When our joy is in the Lord. II. When thankful prayer replaces worry. III. When the peace of God guards our hearts and minds.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Wow, talk about wishful thinking? Does anyone remember a commercial on TV years ago? It would seem to apply here. “I can do that. I can do that. How am I going to do that?” Well, maybe things were really going well for Paul at this juncture of his life and so he could rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS! That is a very big word as I often told my grandchildren. Always? Truth is things weren’t going very well for the apostle. He was in house prison for doing what God commanded him to do, preach Jesus Christ, crucified and risen as the Savior of all lost sinners. He had been persecuted often before this. His was not the ideal life from a worldly point of view. He knew joy ALWAYS would not come easily, if it was to found in himself or in how his life was going. But the Holy Spirit had shown him the way to joy in his life. It was not a giddy feeling with a big smiley face at all times. He clearly urged, “Rejoice in the Lord.” “In the Lord” is the source of constant deep down confident and solid joy even when things aren’t going all that well. Because the Lord is near. On the one hand that is a warning for our sinful flesh. We can’t ever sin without him knowing. But far more, his nearness is Immanuel, God with us. God with us every day to guide, help, forgive and bless. And most of all, God is near reminds us the day is coming that he will return to take us to the place of untarnished joy forever. The Lord and his nearness never changes.

When we buy gifts for loved ones for Christmas, especially today when those gifts are often technology, we make sure there is a guarantee that accompanies them. We want to make sure that the gift functions as it should and the recipient will be happy with it. Well, God wants us to be assured his guarantee of a joy filled Christmas and life will be ours. So he gives us the guarantee here in his Word. Always let the source of deep down confident joy be in the Lord. He is the one who sent his Son to be born in a lowly stable, live a perfect life, die an innocent death and rise again victoriously all to be your Savior from sin and your sure way to heaven’s perfect joy forever. Even and perhaps especially at this most wonderful time of the year we often put our hope for a merry Christmas in gifts, people, songs, and traditions, all which can disappoint. If we experience joy in those things, wonderful, God’s icing on the Christmas cookie. Oh, we can be of some help, perhaps, in making Christmas a bit merrier for people around us by treating them with Christian love and kindness. Paul alludes to that when he urges, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” But things in life don’t always turn out as we would like, not only at Christmas, but at any time. That is why Paul repeats his encouragement, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” Always, “in the Lord” and all he is and does for you and me. Then we can rejoice also that our names are not only written on gifts under the tree, but written in the book of life guaranteeing joy untainted by sin or any of its ramifications ever again.

“Anything” is the next big word Paul uses in God’s guarantee for a Merry Christmas. In other words, there are no exceptions. And here comes another big, “Wow!” for us weak sinners. “Do not be anxious about ANYTHING , but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” For us worry-worts, that is quite the admonishment and especially at this time of year. We worry about getting it all done, gifts purchased, goodies baked, house cleaned, children ready for the special service, rehearsals done. The list seems endless. And at other times we worry also and there can be some big ticket causes. Poor health, loss of job, friends in school turning away, death of a loved one. Again, at times the list seems endless. How can we ever be not anxious about anything? Well, when we take all our needs and worries to the Lord, the same Lord we rejoice in always. And do it with heartfelt thanks. Hearts truly thankful for what the Lord gives and does, and there are always those blessings, have less worry and anxiety over the things in life that hurt and rob of happiness. It is at those times we may feel we are not loved or blessed by the Lord. That is one our problems, feelings. If I don’t feel blessed or thankful because of what is going on in my life I must not be blessed. If I don’t feel happy, I must have no joy in the Lord. Ah, but you do. Go to him with a grateful heart and cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares for you as Peter wrote in one of his letters. Do you remember some time ago we urged one another to write down one blessing the Lord gives us each day as a reminder that he is still near and he does care. And when our feelings doubt that, go back to the Gospel, the good news of great joy the angels proclaimed in the fields of Bethlehem declaring Christ, your Savior was born. Go back to the cross and recall how for the joy set before him Christ endured the cross to pay for your sins and make you his child. Return to his empty tomb and join the women there on Easter morning who were filled with fear and great joy. Look at heaven’s open door and the pure joy that awaits you there. Oh, he cares. Take it to the Lord in prayer. When the worries of the season start to overwhelm, talk to your caring Lord, the one who guarantees you his love and care, and have a truly merry Christmas and life in him.

What would you say is the opposite of anxiety and worry? Surely one thing would be peace, right? And that is the final assurance God gives in his guarantee for a merry Christmas and a truly joy filled life. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The Christmas angels announced it to the world the night the Prince of peace came into this peace less world. “…on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” It is a peace that is like a sentry placed on the wall of a city to protect the people from an attacking enemy. Many are the enemies that attack our hearts and minds on a daily basis, led by General Satan. He loves to attack our hearts with skepticism regarding whether the Lord is really there for us or loves us. He loves to attack our minds with hatred, fear and the incessant “why” questions. But the peace with God that Jesus won for us when he took away the enmity between us and the Lord guards our hearts and minds and won’t let these enemies win the victory. These words are very appropriately shared after God has assured us again of his love, forgiveness and presence in this message. Through it the Holy Spirit restores the joy of our salvation as David assures us in Psalm 51. Lord knows that joy and peace needs constant restoring, something like the joy candle on the Advent wreath needs to be relighted for every service. Similarly, our peace as we go back into our lives at the end of each service is restored and strengthened when our pastor speaks the Lord’s blessing to us, “The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace”, peace in Christ Jesus. Want a truly merry Christmas? Let the peace of God guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. All the same can be said for a Happy New Year and rest of our life. Amen.