This morning, we’re continuing our message series entitled, “Unwrapped” where we are unwrapping some of the greatest Christmas gifts that God freely offers us. All too often, we unwrap a part of God’s gift of salvation and see the “get out of hell” and “forgiveness of sin” features and are satisfied enough there. However, God’s desire is that we spend our lifetime unwrapping and fully exploring all of the benefits of this gift of salvation!
God encourages us to check out all of the many features of His gift of salvation, not just the obvious ones. He doesn’t want us to miss out on anything that He has given us!
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits
This morning, we’re going to unwrap God’s gift of joy. Yes, God actually does want us to enjoy the life that He has given us. In fact, joy is a fruit of the Spirit that God grows within us as we follow Him. It is a gift of God and can be fully found in Him alone. Here are just a few instances where the enjoyment of life is encouraged:
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
1 Timothy 6:17
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
If you stop and think about it, Christians should be the most joyous group of people on the face of the earth. Our sins have all been forgiven, we’ve been reconciled to God, filled with the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the grave, freely given eternal life, made into a brand new creation, and so much more. What is there not to be joyful about?
Too often in life, we get overwhelmed and our perspective clouded by life’s troubles and lose sight of how truly blessed we are. At Christmas time, we take time to step back and remember how great our lives truly are. Despite its doctrinal errors, movies like, “It’s A Wonderful Life” give us such a perspective shift.
George Bailey goes from being overwhelmed by stress and life’s troubles to the point of suicide to rejoicing in those same troubles. The same things that pushed him to consider taking his own life now are the thrills and joys of life all because of a mindset and perspective shift. He now is overwhelmed with joy by a bloody lip, totaled car, sick daughter, the imminent threat of imprisonment, and financial ruin. He realizes not only how blessed he truly is as a man, but also is able to get a glimpse of what his community would look like without his life.
Movies like this became classics and traditions because we all long to be able to have that type of joy in the midst of life’s troubles. A movie can inspire us to pursue it, but we know that this type of joy ultimately can only come from God.
It wasn’t accidental, but rather, very intentional that God chose to give us His gift of salvation in this same way; in the midst of trouble. Such gifts like His joy can only be fully appreciated when it is surrounded by everything opposed to it and yet it still stands firm and shines bright. God chose to bring about His salvation by impregnating His only Son within an unmarried, teenage girl engaged to be married. They were poor, scared, rejected, and forced into life circumstances that they were in no way prepared for. Jesus was born in a barn and had for His bed a manger. I mean, talk about being unprepared for a baby let alone for bearing God’s only Son, the salvation of all mankind! On top of all of this, they faced evil opposition like none of us ever will. King Herod slaughtered all boys two years old and younger in an attempt to murder their baby!
The birth of Jesus was a dark tale that kind of looked like a mix between a Hallmark Christmas drama and a Stephen King horror film. However, it was also an incredibly joyful tale because none of that drama and horror could stop or even begin to diminish the reality of what God was doing through that life! God chose to announce the birth of Jesus not to royalty or the Jewish religious leaders, but rather, to homeless shepherds working the night shift:
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The angels then go on praising about the peace that we learned about last week.
Great joy for all the people! Your Savior has come, He is the Messiah, the Lord! Oh yeah, and he’s a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a donkey’s food trough. Yet this was good news that will cause great joy for all the people!
We often mistake happiness for joy. Happiness is a temporary emotion and is based on our immediate circumstances. Joy is a substance and can be possessed no matter what circumstances one finds themselves in. In fact, I would go so far as to make this statement. Joy flourishes in places where happiness cannot even enter.
Joy is the town of Whoville singing their songs after the Grinch made every attempt to stop that noise! The Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
Of course, Christmas means quite a bit more. Jesus gives us one of Christmas’ greatest gifts which the Who’s of Whoville possessed in abundance: joy! The Who’s didn’t need presents or trees or food or anything else to have joy. In fact, they had rejoiced even after everything had been stolen from them.
They weren’t bitter or enraged, they rejoiced in the midst of their wrongful suffering! Again, the reason that this movie has become such a classic and tradition for us is because not only can lives like the Grinch’s be radically transformed, but also because we long to have this type of joy! In fact, it was their joy in the midst of suffering that lead to the transformation of the Grinch as his heart grew three sizes that day!
We can have that joy and have it all year long! Peter wrote:
1 Peter 1:3-9
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
An inexpressible and glorious joy in the midst of all kinds of trial and suffering. I have come to realize that this is truly the trademark of salvation. It is undeniable evidence of a life that has been transformed. It is from this joy that we find our strength and find the motive to love and serve others. It is that joy in our lives that gives others the desire for Jesus.
It is that joy that is all too often lacking in our lives, if we are to be honest with each other. After the whole mess of David’s affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David cried out:
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Oh Lord Jesus, forgive our sins and restore to us the joy of our salvation! We are desperate for Your joy, Lord!
2 Corinthians 8:1-4
1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.
Severe trials + extreme poverty + overflowing joy = rich generosity? Only in God’s grace-filled Kingdom can this be the case! Not only an outpouring of rich generosity, but also possessing overflowing joy in the midst of severe trials and extreme poverty!
Still today, it is often those who are suffering and in poverty that are quick to give generously to the needs of others. This was the case with the church in Macedonia toward the church in Jerusalem and Judea and they were putting the rich church in Corinth to shame in the matter of giving. The root of generosity here obviously wasn’t how much anyone had or lacked, but rather the degree of joy they possessed.
Just like George Bailey and the Grinch, joy has the potential to radically transform our lives without changing anything at all. God’s joy is able to fill our lives and violently rid us of all bitterness, envy, depression, and selfishness. God’s joy is able to change us from the inside out. Joy is able to keep our lives so full that all of the troubles and cares of the world simply cannot touch us inwardly.
This year, let’s unwrap the incredible gift of God’s joy!