Christmas is past and New Year’s is coming. It’s a time of celebration and feasting. Plates are full of food, but what about your heart? Are you getting your fill? Have you topped up with joy?
Parties are held. Fireworks are shot off. Gifts are purchased and exchanged. Friends celebrate together. Families have special meals. Carols are sung. Sermons are preached. In many different ways and different places around the world, Christmas and New Year’s Day is celebrated.
But when all the celebration is over, how many of us still have empty hearts? Christmas is an announcement of joy. The angel announced to the shepherds,
Luke 2:10 ESV … ”Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
You were made for joy. Great joy.
A Time of Feasting and Rejoicing
In the Old Testament, God established set times when the entire nation of Israel was to stop all normal activities and celebrate. These were times of feasting and celebrating what God had done for the nation. For example, God instructs the Israelites concerning the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles),
Leviticus 23:40-41 ESV … you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. 41 You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year…
These were times of rejoicing and gladness and great celebration.
Should we celebrate Christmas? Some people do not celebrate the birth of Christ.
- Some do not celebrate it because of religious reasons.
- Christmas is not celebrated in Thailand, for example, because its population is almost entirely Buddhist.
- While some Hindus celebrate Christmas in their own way, others worry about the influence of Christmas on Hinduism. They worry, as they well might, that Christmas might influence Hindus to become Christians! Hinduism has two million gods, but none can compare with the one true God, the one who was from the beginning who became flesh, who was seen and touched and who hungered and thirsted and bled and died and was raised again and show himself to be alive with many proofs. None can compare with the incomparable Christ.
- Christmas is not celebrated in most Islamic countries, and some have outlawed Christmas. The Guardian reports that the governments of Somalia, Tajikistan and Brunei (just north of Indonesia) – “have banned Christmas celebrations this year, with punishments ranging up to a five-year jail term.”
- Others do not celebrate Christmas because they do not know about Jesus Christ.
Should we celebrate the birth of Christ? Some people do not think that Christians should celebrate Christmas because the Bible does not tell us to celebrate it. What are we to think of that?
1. We can celebrate Christ’s birth because we are free to celebrate it.
Are we to do only things that the Bible tells us to do? What if something is not mentioned in the Bible? Does that mean that we cannot do it? There are many things that we do that the Bible does not tell us to do. We build church buildings, and drive cars, and fly around the world in airplanes. We use computers and mobile phones, and listen to the radio. There are hundreds of things that we do on a regular basis that the Bible never told us to do, but these are not moral or ethical issues.
The Bible is not a list of rules, a list of things that we must do and things that we must not do. That is a complete misunderstanding of Christianity.
2 Corinthians 3:17 ESV Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Freedom! The Christian life is one of freedom! Freedom to do what is right.
Galatians 5:1 ESV For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 NLT So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.
Some would tie us up! Some tell us that we must worship on a certain day but not on Sunday. That is slavery. Some tell us that we must not celebrate Christmas. That is another form of slavery. “Do this! Don’t do that!”
Colossians 2:16 NLT So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.
Colossians 2:20-22 NLT You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them.
As Christians, we are free to celebrate and to rejoice in the good things that God has done for us.
2. We can celebrate Christ’s birth because the Bible shows that God’s people are free to celebrate God’s goodness.
We find two feasts in the Bible that were not prescribed under the Law of Moses. One of those feasts is found in the Old Testament and the other in the New Testament.
First there is the Feast of Purim. It is not mentioned in the Law. In fact, it was instituted by the Jews almost a thousand years after Moses came down from Mt. Sinai. It is the Book of Esther that tells us about the Feast of Purim. It was a celebration of the defeat of Haman’s plot to massacre the Jews. Every year to this day, the Jews celebrate their deliverance from Haman’s plot. Every year, they celebrate the Feast of Purim.
In the New Testament, in John 10:22, we read about the Feast of Dedication. This feast was not prescribed in the Old Testament. A Seleucid ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes IV had desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews revolted against his rule, regained control of Israel, and rededicated the temple in December 164 B.C. The Feast of Dedication was an eight-day feast which celebrated the rededication of the Jewish temple nearly 1,300 years after the Law was given. The Feast was not prescribed by the Law, yet the Jews were perfectly free to celebrate the event. This very week, the Jews are celebrating this Feast of Dedication. It is called Hanukkah.
If the Jews were free to institute the Feast of Purim and the Feast of Dedication, how much more are we as Christians free to celebrate the coming of Christ into the world. Over and over again, the Bible speaks of Christ’s coming “into the world.”
Consecrated by the Father and sent into the world.
John 10:36 ESV do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
Hebrews 1:6 ESV And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
Hebrews 10:5 ESV Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said [to the Father], “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples,
John 16:28 ESV I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
He prayed to the Father that night:
John 17:18 ESV As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
What about all those Christmas lights? Christ was sent into the world as the Light of the World:
John 1:9 ESV The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
John 3:19 ESV And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
John 12:46 ESV I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
Christ was sent to save:
John 3:17 ESV For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John 18:37 ESV Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world– to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
1 John 4:9 ESV In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
This calls for a response:
John 6:14 ESV When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
John 11:27 ESV She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Christians have great reason to celebrate Christmas. We remember the coming into the world of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We gave thanks that
1 Timothy 1:15 ESV … Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…
We remember that
John 3:16 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
We remember that the angel had said to Joseph concerning Mary,
Matthew 1:21 ESV She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
We have reason to celebrate and to give thanks…
As Christians, we have reason to celebrate and give thanks that God has given us his Son. But
Why do unbelievers celebrate Christmas?
Christmas is without question a Christian holy day. One cannot talk of Christmas without mention Christ, the Holy One of God. And yet, I think one could say without fear of contradiction, that Christmas is not only the most widely celebrated Christian holiday, but it is also the holiday that is generally celebrated by more unbelievers than any other.
The Pew Research Center has published some very interesting information about how Christmas is celebrated in the United States.
According to the Pew Research Center, 96% of all Christians celebrate Christmas. Well, there is no big surprise there. But here is the surprise:
- 81% of all non-Christians in the United States also celebrate Christmas (2013 research).
- 76% of Asian-American Buddhists celebrate Christmas (2012 research).
- 73% of American Hindus celebrate Christmas (2012).
- One-third (32%) of American Jews put up a Christmas tree in their home.
- There are even a number of Muslims who celebrate Christmas.
But that begs the question, Why would unbelievers celebrate a Christian holiday since they do not believe in Christ?
Who could deny that Christmas is a joyous occasion? We celebrate Christmas with lights and candles and decorations and Christmas trees. We exchange gifts because God gave His one and only Son. We sing songs and carols. We bake special cakes and cookies (biscuits). We prepare special meals to make the occasion memorable. It is a time of joy and celebration. So why would unbelievers celebrate a Christian holiday since they do not believe in Christ?
The simple answer is that we were created for joy.
Unbelievers, whether they are atheists, or pagans, or Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or Muslims — they do not want to miss out on the joy. We were made for joy. We were created for joy. God is a joyful God. He is full of joy, and he created us in him image. He created us to know joy, so there is a deep longing for joy in the human heart.
God created us to know joy, so there is a deep longing for joy in the human heart.
Last Sunday morning as I was on my way to Radio FM107, I saw a drunk man lying in the parking lot of a nearby nightclub. A kind friend was with him, taking care of him until the effects of alcohol wore off. Why was the man drunk? Why had he been drinking? Because he was empty. He was looking for something. He may not have been able to define it. But there was something pushing him to search for the missing something, the joy that he was meant for.
There was undoubtedly a lot of alcohol that was consumed to celebrate Christmas, and more will be consumed to celebrate New Year’s Day. Why the bottle? Why the kava? Why the drugs? Because we were made for joy. We know that there is something more. We have a deep longing in ourselves for joy. We desire to be filled.
Many unbelievers celebrate Christmas to try to generate joy. Many people celebrate celebrating. It’s party time for them. It is just one more excuse to party. Let the fun begin! But the problem is that the bottle is a cheap substitute for the real thing. Alcohol, kava, and mind-altering drugs give no lasting joy. Instead, they destroy and take the place of the one who alone can fill the deepest longing of the human heart. As Augustine wrote in his book Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
The message of Christmas is that the source of our joy has come:
Luke 2:8-14 ESV And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
The Bible makes much of rejoicing.
As one Bible scholar (Karl Barth) said, “It is astonishing how many references there are in the Old and New Testaments to delight, joy, bliss, exultation, merry-making, and rejoicing, and how emphatically these are demanded from the Book of Psalms to the Epistle to the Philippians.”
The foundation of joy is God himself. Our God is a rejoicing God.
Isaiah 62:5 ESV For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
Isaiah 65:19 ESV I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people;..
Zephaniah 3:17 ESV The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. When the man finds his lost sheep,
Luke 15:6 ESV … he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
When the woman finds the lost coin,
Luke 15:9 ESV … she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
When the father finds his lost son, he throws a party and says to the older brother,
Luke 15:32 ESV It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
Jesus tells us that when the lost are found, there is great joy in heaven:
Luke 15:7 ESV Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents …
Luke 15:10 ESV Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The Nature of Joy
We must understand that real lasting joy does not come in a bottle.
Nor does joy depend on our circumstances. Paul and Silas were attacked in Philippi. Their clothes were torn off them. They were beaten severely with rods, thrown into prison with their feet fastened in the stocks. That doesn’t sound like the formula for joy, but we read in
Acts 16:25 ESV About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…
Colossians 1:24 ESV Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…
The Source of Joy
How can we top up on joy?
1. Joy comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven.
Psalm 32:1-2 NLT A psalm of David. Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! 2 Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
Psalm 32:11 NLT So rejoice in the LORD and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!
The disciples came back rejoicing that the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name. Jesus responded to them,
Luke 10:20 ESV Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Isaiah 12:3 ESV With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
2. We rejoice knowing that we have a great reward in heaven:
Luke 6:22-23 NLT What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. 23 When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.
3. Joy comes not from our own efforts or mental gymnastics. Joy comes from the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The Spirit of God, living in the Christian, produces the joy of God in his heart. We must sow to the Spirit. We must feed on the Word of God. We just seek the face of God.
Ephesians 5:18-19 NLT Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.
4. Joy comes from belonging to the kingdom of God:
Romans 14:17 ESV For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
5. Joy comes from believing God. Believing what God says. Believing the promises of God as written in the Word of God:
Romans 15:13 ESV May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
6. Joy comes from knowing the reality of our faith. This is not the result of someone’s imagination or vision or dream. The Jesus of history lived and died and rose again. This is how John, one of his disciples, describes him:
1 John 1:1-4 NLT We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.
The Apostle Peter
1 Peter 1:8 NLT You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.
True, lasting joy comes from knowing the Savior. Christmas is a message of joy for all people. He came to save all who receive him. He came to fill our hearts with joy, all year long.