Living With the Joy of Christmas
“Living With the Joy of Christmas”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Second Sunday of Christmas
January 3, 2016
Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 84
Ephesians 1:3-6; 15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15; 19-23
Merry Christmas! As I was preparing for this Sunday, I saw in my old notes something that I haven’t seen in years but speaks so loudly to us today. If we don’t know history, we won’t understand the present because everything is built on something that came before it. Sadly for most of us, we live without an understanding of what came before. We don’t know what belongs to us, and so we live in poverty. We live in want, fear and anxiety. We have allowed the government to take over every aspect of life, but we began as a society ruled by the Church. God was the Ruler, He spoke directly to man with instructions about how to live. When man wanted something different, God gave judges, then prophets, and then kings. How things have changed! Today, it is man who rules. This is rebellion. We’ve taken over. We’re the boss. We do what we want without thought of the consequences. We’ve forgotten to listen to God, or choose to ignore Him.
I want to share some thoughts about history to make us understand why Christmas is a joyous occasion and why it brings a life full of joy and peace. When God created the heavens and the earth, and then man, He did so with perfection. “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31). In the midst of His perfect creation, He gave instruction and commissioned man to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it….” God created us with an ability to prosper and move ahead in life. To do this, He gave us authority to control and subdue evil and commanded us to rule. Cultivate and keep – this is God’s commission, His calling to man. According to His plan, man was to be prosperous, fill the earth, subdue it and reign. He didn’t intend for man to be in bondage, but for man to be like Him; because man was created in His image and likeness. However, the first man and his wife submitted the authority given to them by God to the serpent, and thereafter, the serpent became the ruler of the earth. He ruled in terror, held man in fear, bondage and without hope. Man tried to overcome the terror, but he only got deeper into slavery. Till one day, God said, “Enough! I’m going to send My Son to prove that the world belongs to Me; that I created man to be like Me. I’m going to crush the enemy and give back the authority to man.” This is what Christmas is all about.
Christmas is God’s decision to set man free; to bring back hope to his life. He gave back to man the authority and dominion over creation. This is why when Christ was born, the angels sang with exceedingly great joy. The angels rejoiced that at last, man was going to be set free and God’s glory would be seen on earth. The birth of Christ did this.
The calling on man remains the same – to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; to cultivate and keep the earth and not allow the enemy to take it away again. God sent Christ to do the work, the sent the Holy Spirit to empower us. We now have the joy of life to do as we’ve been commissioned.
In Jeremiah 31, we read that the Lord will be our Shepherd, and because of this, we will shout for joy! How can we watch sporting events and shout to cheer on our team but be silent in church? The walls of the church should be filled with shouts of praise to God! Today, we look at our circumstances and feel miserable because we don’t understand what really happened on Christmas and what it means for our lives today. The Scriptures show us the greatness of God – the dividing of the Red Sea, the feeding of the five thousand and many more. All these great acts of God show us how God takes care of us.
In the Gospel, after the wise men left, God instructed Joseph to take the Child Jesus and His mother to Egypt to escape from Herod who was determined to have the Child killed. After the death of Herod, Archelaus, his son took over, so Joseph was still afraid to return to Judea. God warned him again in a dream, so he left for Galilee and lived in Nazareth. This is our history. God will not fail nor forsake us, but will always protect us. This is the joy that Christmas brings. We are to keep this joy of Christmas in our hearts, our desire to do good for others. This is what Christ came to do: the old things have passed away. He has made all things new.
Jeremiah 31:12-14 “They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion, and they will be radiant over the bounty of the Lord….” Most of us think we don’t have much when we have been blessed abundantly. “Their life will be like a watered garden and they will never languish again.” God has blessed our lives with wisdom, understanding and fulfillment; everything we’ll ever need. We have so much more blessings than problems, and we have the ability to overcome. “I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance and My people will be satisfied with My goodness.”
Psalm 51:12 “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation….” Our salvation brings us joy. Christ is the Messiah, our Savior. This should fill us with joy. “He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:5) Do we realize this? Are we thankful for it? If we’re not thankful, we may not experience the blessings and the joy they bring. “He chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless….predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ….” He has given us so much that the statement “I can’t” belongs to the devil and not to a Christian; because all things are possible, if you believe. “….the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:19) Such power is unequalled and it is what He has given us. He called us to be His ambassadors, His witnesses on earth, so will He not take care of us? This should fill us with confidence and assurance.
I remember sometime ago, God spoke to me and my wife while we were in the midst of turmoil, from Revelation: “I have put before you an open door which no one can shut.” And He has shown us that if God opens a door, no one can shut it. Christ came to deliver us from darkness and opened the door to a new life of light and joy. No one can shut this door to the new life that He has given us.
The wise men came from a far distance led by a star. They knew that something special was happening because nature was speaking to them. Even with the threat from Herod, the star did not stop guiding the wise men. This speaks of the faithfulness of God to bring to fulfillment His plan for mankind. The Child Jesus was taken to Egypt, but God did not forsake Christ. There may be obstacles, hindrances and challenges along the way, but God will always fulfill His plan. I believe that failure, defeat and mistakes won’t spell the end. The end will only come when there’s victory. We don’t know what tomorrow holds for us, but we know for sure that God never fails. He is unchanging, faithful; the same yesterday, today and forever. We may go through so many changes in our life, a lot of challenges and difficulties, but through it all, God stays the same. He will not bring us to a place without first telling us how it’s going to be. “Before I do anything, I will tell you.”
This is why Christmas is a joyful occasion. God has put us in our rightful place as His sons, to rule, cultivate and keep all of creation, with God’s help and power. Everyone has been given gifts and it’s our responsibility to put these gifts to good use to complete the work that God has given us to do. We should be excited about God and our part in His plan, the work He has given us to do. Merry Christmas! Be filled with joy. May the joy of your salvation return and fill you with exceedingly great joy!