December 20, 2004
Encouragement for Today
How to Have a Joy-Filled Christmas
Mary Southerland - Director of Development, Speaker, Author
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son." John 3:16a
Christmas! My favorite time of the year!
Brightly wrapped presents
Houses draped in lights
The smell of cinnamon and pine
Secret shopping trips
Children whispering and giggling
Old movies that make me laugh and cry
Phone calls from friends miles away
Chocolate covered cherries.
Something important is happening, a time of celebration. The literal meaning of "Christmas" is "Christ's Mass", the celebration of Christ. We all want a joy-filled Christmas that truly celebrates Christ. Yet, the holiday season often leaves us with very little joy and a feeling of emptiness. How then, can we have a joy-filled Christmas?
I believe that the secret to the celebration of Christmas is found in giving. Maybe we are giving the wrong gifts. Maybe we are giving gifts to the wrong people. Maybe we are not receiving the right gifts. Over the next three days, we will look at the truths surrounding a Christmas that is filled with joy and Christ Himself.
The first truth is that we must receive God's gift to us.
Luke 2:8-13 "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 of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
God gave the greatest gift of all when He gave Jesus, a gift that only eternity can measure. Across the manger is a shadow of the cross and an empty tomb. The very heart of Christmas can be found in a familiar verse, a verse we seldom associate with the Christmas season.
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son."
Christmas is not a date on the calendar but rather a way of life. Like the innkeeper, we are often guilty of posting a sign across the entrance of our hearts that reads, "No room!" We can participate in every festivity of the Christmas season, but until we receive the gift of Jesus Christ, we will never truly experience Christmas.
To have a Christ-centered Christmas, we must not only recognize Him as the center of a season, but the center of our entire life as well - every part of it - every day of the year. By human standards, Jesus could and should have been born in a palace, a mansion fit for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But He came to a manger, and His birth was announced by shepherds instead of Kings; the greatest of all miracles - in the midst of total simplicity. Even today, this extraordinary Jesus comes to us in the midst of our ordinary lives. He comes to be one of us.
It was Christmas Eve and the family was preparing to attend the church service. Everyone was going, everyone except Dad. He was an honest man, a good man, but he simply could neither understand nor accept the story of the baby in a manger. It was just too far-fetched for the human mind to conceive. How could God allow His Son to give up Heaven for Earth? Why would Jesus want to die for any man? The questions lingered and, not wanting to be a hypocrite, the man chose to stay home rather than sit in a pew with an unbelieving heart.
As his family went out into the cold wintry night, the man added a log to the fire and settled into his favorite chair to read the paper and wait for his family's return. A knock at the window pulled him away from his peaceful reverie and glancing outside, he was stunned to see that the knocking sound was actually a small bird desperately trying to reach the warmth of the fire.
The man thought for a moment, contemplating a solution to the bird's predicament. He opened the window but the bird wouldn't come in. He tried opening the front door, but the bird refused his offer. Finally, the man grabbed his coat and stepped into the Christmas night and God's plan. He trudged through the deepening snow, determined to save the tiny bird by opening the barn doors, convincing the little bird that the barn was safe and warm. Still, the bird refused his solution.
Frustrated, the man thought, "If only I could be a bird, for just a moment, I could lead the bird to safety." Suddenly, the sound of church bells rang through the cold, dark night - and he knew. He finally understood the reason Jesus came - to be one of us - to lead us into the safety of His will.
"And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. For since he himself has now been through suffering and temptation, he knows what it is like when we suffer and are tempted, and he is wonderfully able to help us." Hebrews 2: 17-18
Wherever you are today, Jesus has been there and He understands. God has tucked a longing into Christmas, a longing for home. That longing can never be satisfied outside of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ! That's why He came. The first truth of a Christ-centered Christmas is to receive God's gift - Jesus.
My prayer for today:
Jesus, I am so tired of shallow and meaningless Christmas celebrations. This year, I want to experience you and a Christmas filled with your joy. Right now, I give myself to you and ask that you would forgive my sin and take control of my life. I invite you to reign as Lord and Savior. Thank you, Father, for your love and your mercy. I am yours. Amen.
If you prayed today's prayer, I encourage you to read the following verses of scripture and consider the truths listed beside each one.
Romans 3:23 We all have sinned.
Romans 6:23 The price of sin is death, but God paid that price.
Romans 5:8 Jesus died for our sin.
Romans 10:13 When we call on God, He hears and saves us.
Romans 8:38 Nothing and no one can separate us from God's love.
Share your decision with a friend. Begin reading your Bible, starting with the Gospel of John. Pray continually because if it is important to you, it is important to your God. Regularly attend a church that teaches the Bible. Seek out those who will encourage you in your faith walk.
Think back to past Christmas holidays. Was Jesus the center of the celebration? If not, what was the focus of each holiday celebration? Evaluate past Christmases in light of your new faith. If you are a Christian, evaluate past Christmases in light of its true meaning. What changes will you make this year to have a joy-filled Christmas?
Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Psalm 142: 7
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:17-18
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. Psalm 40:1-3
The Sweetest Story Ever Told by Lysa Terkeurst
Celebrating a Christ-Centered Christmas by Sharon Jaynes