A Christmas Sermon
By Derick Parfan
December 24, 2008
Luke 6:23, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”
The shortened form for Christmas is Xmas. Someone has written that the X in Xmas means Xhaustion, Xcuses, Xchanges, Xcesses, Xtravagances, Xasperations, Xhibitions and worldly Xcitement. That is true because of the way people replaces the true meaning of Christmas. What is supposed to be a heavenly celebration is becoming earthly. The X in Xmas stands for Christ. It represents the first letter of the name of Christ in Greek. It also symbolizes the cross of Christ. I want to remind you that Christ must be at the center of our celebration.
Roman Catholics started celebrating Christmas, then known as the Feast of Nativity, as early as 336 AD. Around 1050 AD, the word Christmas entered the English language as the old English phrase Christes maesse, which means “festival of Christ.” Christmas is supposed to be not just an ordinary feast, but a festival and a celebration of Christ.
The common Christmas greeting is Merry Christmas. Merry means “lively cheerfulness or enjoyment, delightful.” So when we greet others Merry Christmas we are wishing that they may have a delightful or joyful celebration of Christ. Yet we are so accustomed to this greeting that it lost its meaning. We just mean, “May you enjoy your Christmas day (however you may want to spend it).” We may have a happy Christmas day, but we may not have a delightful celebration of Christ.
Jesus’ wish for us is different. He wants us to be happy not just on Christmas Day but everyday and forever.
Our text tonight is a little bit unusual for a Christmas celebration. But this is extraordinary because it calls for an extraordinary rejoicing not just in celebrating Christmas but in celebrating the Christian life. This is extraordinary because it is spoken by the extraordinary Christ who calls for extraordinary obedience. Therefore, we ought to listen to what he is saying to us and see how these words will apply to our Christmas celebration and the days after the party is over.
A Command to Rejoice
Turn your Bibles to Luke 6:20-23.
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
I want to concentrate on the phrase in verse 23, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”
Jesus is commanding us to “rejoice.” This is not a mere wish or a suggestion. It is a command from our Lord. He wants us to be happy that is why he commands that we be happy. He wants our happiness. He wants us to work for our own happiness. To pursue pleasure and satisfaction is not bad in itself. To pursue it with the wrong things is sin. But to pursue it in God-centered ways is a virtue. He commands that we rejoice.
It is a command that many of us do not take seriously. “Rejoice always” (1 Thes. 5:16). “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). If this is a command, it means that we must do all things necessary for us to be happy. Even when there is suffering, pain, or losses because of obedience to Jesus.
Rejoicing While Suffering
The command to rejoice is a command to rejoice even when there is suffering. Jesus commands it in the context of suffering and pain on the path of obedience to him. He said, “Rejoice in that day.” He is referring to the day “when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!”
Christian life is not going to be easy. We live in a world where suffering is an everyday reality. For every child who will receive a gift this Christmas, there is another child begging for alms in the street. For every family feasting on their Noche Buena, there is a family suffering from poverty and hunger. For every Christian freely celebrating Christmas, there is another Christian celebrating secretly for fear of persecution. Jesus did not say that we must wait for the suffering to be over before we rejoice. He said that even when we suffer today, we must rejoice. When we rejoice we are telling him that he is our treasure and not the things we might have lost.
We just can’t say, “Lord, you do not know what I’m going through right now. How can you tell me to rejoice?” We can’t say that. He knows your situation and he tells you to rejoice.
A few hours from now, many will be happy because of Christmas. But we must not forget that many more are in pain and can’t celebrate Christmas with real joy. Christ also wants them to rejoice. Pray for them that they would be able to have real joy in Christ this season even when life is difficult. Pray for Christians around the world who are in danger of persecution. We may be too busy celebrating Christmas for ourselves that we forget those who suffer. And, pray also for yourselves that God may give you joy during these hard times.
Abundant Joy Possible
He did not just tell us to rejoice but to rejoice exceedingly. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy.” “Leap for joy” is a metaphor for rejoicing and it emphasizes the kind of abundant joy someone expressed. It is used by Luke also when Mary visited her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb” (1:41). This abundant joy was experienced by the Magi who were seeking for Jesus, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt. 2:10). This is kind of joy the good news of Christ will bring, as the angel told the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Even when there are pains and losses, we can leap for joy. That’s how God wants us to celebrate Christ.
Rejoicing exceedingly is possible. This is what Jesus came for. He wants us to experience fulness of joy that will not be possible apart from his redeeming work on the cross. He purchased exceeding joy for us. When we buy gifts for Christmas, some of us settle for just anything to give. My wife wants to buy gifts that will really make the recipient glad. That’s is how God wants to give us. He will give not just an ordinary joy but abundant, exceeding, overflowing joy. The baby in the manger is proof of that. The crucified Christ is God’s way of telling us how far he will go to give us exceeding joy.
Jesus wants us to rejoice exceedingly and not to settle for trivial things in life that can only give us temporal and small joys. Consider how C.S. Lewis assessed our attitudes toward joy:
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses, 1965, p. 2, italics mine)
Jesus is Our Joy
The reason we must rejoice is because of Jesus. But he is not just the source of joy. He himself is our joy. And I believe he is the “great reward” God has for everyone who believes in him. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” If that reward is only an improved version of what we have here on earth, I don’t think that it would be that “great.” But if that reward would be none other than the great God who came down to live among us in the person of Jesus, and purchased eternal joy for us by giving himself on the cross for us, then that would be “great” indeed.
Seeing, knowing, and experiencing Jesus brings us joy. This is Jesus’ desire expressed in his prayer to God before he died, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Not seeing Jesus is sorrowful but seeing him is joy. He said to his disciples, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
It does not mean that there is no room for enjoying things other than Christ. It means that we can rejoice at other things if these things point us to Christ as the only source of true joy. Our joy needs to be Christ-centered. There is no room for worldly joy. Jesus did not came to satisfy our worldly and sinful pleasures. Yet many celebrate Christmas that way.
The gifts that Christmas brings to people are only signs that must point us to Christ himself. When the Magi saw the star, they rejoiced not because of the star but because of the One to whom that star points. When the angel told Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist, “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth” (Luke 1:14), the reason for that joy is not because of John but because of the Messiah whose way John will prepare.
Now, ask your self, “What makes me happy this Christmas?” If you will be satisfied to have the things you have or want to have even without having Christ, I am asking you to evaluate yourself and see if you truly have Christ. Many people still wants Christ but plus the other things. Jesus came to tell us that he is enough even when we don’t have everything else.
Everlasting Joy in Jesus
We may have abundant joy now even while we are still in this sinful and suffering world. But the best is yet to come. Jesus promises everlasting joy in heaven. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” He promises to make our joy complete. He wants us to set our joy on heavenly things not on the things this world can offer. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
He will complete our joy by giving us his joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). He said to the Father in his high priestly prayer, “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (17:13). If you have the joy of Jesus, I assure you that you will be the happiest of all people for Jesus is the happiest human being who ever lived.
Many of us do not experience fullness of joy because we do not ask for it. “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). Don’t settle for anything less than having the joy of Jesus. What are you wishing to have this Christmas season? Make sure you have “the joy of Jesus” in your priority list. Ask God for joy, you will have it.
A Joyous Celebration of our Life in Jesus
Jesus is not wishing us a Merry Christmas. He desires that we celebrate our life with joy in him because we have him. He wants us to celebrate the things we have because these things point to the grace given to us by God. He wants us to celebrate even without the things other people have, by cherishing the things we already have. He wants us to be satisfied because we already have him. And because we have him, we have everything. By giving himself to us, he gave us everything. Have a really Merry Christmas. Remember that it means having a joyous celebration of the festival of Christ. Make everyday a celebration in Christ. Rejoice in Jesus.