“Christmas Joy” | December 13, 2020
(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
This week in the Advent season is known as Guadete (Latin word meaning ‘rejoice’) Sunday, or the Sunday of joy.
There is a strong reason for joy. The Hebrew text promises that the people’s fortune and future have been changed from judgment to hope, from destruction to restoration, from oppression to liberation and from dread to praise (Zeph. 3:1420). Of course, this comes after a period of repentance, but the focus is on joy. (In the gospel text, John the Baptizer opens the curtains before the human drama to introduce the coming of the One who will bring a new chapter of salvation, (Lk. 3:718). That again is cause for joy.)
In our Scripture lesson for today from 1st Thessalonians, there are 3 groups of instructions given to us.
• The first grouping of instructions is about rejoicing, praying and giving thanks.
• The second group is about allowing the Work of the Spirit.
• The third group is about being wise and discerning.
1. Let’s look at the first group. From this group I’d like to point us to the
importance of being Proactive vs Reactive.
This first group of instructions are:
A. Rejoice always
B. Pray without ceasing
C. Give thanks in all circumstances
Professor James Denney of Scotland called these three commands “the standing orders of the gospel.” They are “standing orders” because they always apply to every Christian in every situation.
Rejoice, Pray and Give are easy enough to understand as people of God. The problem is how we are to do it with the conditions attached (or, lack of conditions depending on how you look at it). The difficulty is because of the words “always”, “without ceasing” and “in all circumstances”. It would have been easy to understand and easy enough to do without those conditions (or lack of).
This is where I want to highlight the difference between being reactive and being proactive. Reactive action or behavior is a ‘reaction’ in response to something. It comes as a result of something that happens. If we only rejoice when certain conditions in our circumstances are fulfilled, then our rejoicing is in response to, as a result of and as a reaction to those conditions. The problem in such conditioned responses is that when those conditions are not fulfilled it doesn’t evoke the response of rejoicing. For example, if my rejoicing is dependent on my getting something that I’ve wanted, I can easily rejoice when I get it. But what about when I don’t?
Proactive behavior is seen independent of the conditions in the circumstances, and that is what we’re being called to have. We’re called to get to a point where our rejoicing and praying and giving thanks is regardless of the circumstances. That’s tough because, as humans we’re sensitive to various kinds of stimuli. But that is why we’re to understand this ‘rejoicing’ and ‘praying’ and ‘giving thanks’ that we’re called to do, not just as emotional states or physical acts, but expression of our spirituality and faith.
It is only when we think of it like this and become proactive that we can rejoice ALWAYS, pray WITHOUT CEASING and Give thanks IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES because our joy and prayers and thanks are not dependent on our outside circumstances. They come from within. They are proffered in recognition and grateful acknowledgement of what Christ has already done for us, and in faith of seeing God do what He knows is best for us.
2. The second group is about allowing the Work of the Holy Spirit. Let’s understand this in terms of ‘allowing the Spirit to move’ vs ‘quenching the Spirit’.
The Holy Spirit is a person. The Bible tells us about the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. He teaches, He intercedes for us, He groans on our behalf. He is with us as a constant companion, advocate and comforter. But the Bible also clearly tells us that it is possible to “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30). It’s a sad thought that we can do something so atrocious that the Holy Spirit is grieved! In this passage we’re clearly told that we shouldn’t “Quench the Spirit”. It means we shouldn’t do something that puts out the Fire of the Holy Spirit. It is possible to do things that stifles His Work in our midst, or to hinder Him or to limit Him. Do we intentionally or unintentionally hinder His Work or Limit His Work? Could it be that we may be trying to do good but end up “quenching” the Holy Spirit with
• Man (human) -made rules and concepts
• presuming to know the mind of God and setting up barriers to His Grace,
• our disunity
• our contempt and unforgiveness
• our disregard for the least and the lost
• structural violence (active or passive support of) • our silence (at injustice, for instance) • and so on.
Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to Work and not quench the Spirit. During Christmas as we’re looking at the various characters in the Christmas story, if you look at Herod, you’ll find the original Grinch. He wasn’t happy that another ‘king’ was born. He didn’t like the idea of anyone else in authority except him? What about us? We’re not like Herod, are we?
• Are we happy that Jesus was born?
• Are we happy to let everyone know that Jesus, the Christ, is come in to the world?
• Are we happy to let everyone hear the Good news of salvation in Jesus?
• Are we happy to let everyone approach His throne of Grace and receive eternal life?
• Are we happy to allow the Spirit to move where He will and how He will?
Let’s not hinder the Work of the Holy Spirit by our sin or distrust or unwilling mind. Let’s rejoice as the fire of the Spirit spreads and blesses everyone. Like the Angels proclaimed, this is Good News for ALL.
3. The third group of instructions teaches us to be wise and discerning about what is good and what is evil. We’re told to test everything. We have to hold everything to one ultimate standard of God’s Love. Sometimes it becomes very difficult to discern between what is good and what is evil, what is pleasing in God’s sight and what isn’t. We can get wisdom to discern as we pray and meditate on God’s Word and as we seek to grow in our faith and understanding.
This Christmas we’re having a different experience. We have the time and opportunity to be more reflective and introspective. Let this Christmas be a special time to discover with a new joy the wonderful privileges we have as God’s people and also the responsibility as recipients of His Grace.
God bless us with the real Joy that we have because of Christmas: The Joy of Salvation, the Joy of Salvation FOR ALL, The Joy at the Work of the Holy Spirit, And the Joy of God’s eternal presence with us and ever-present help which makes it possible to rejoice ALWAYS, Pray WITHOUT CEASING and Give Thanks IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.
We thank you for the Joy of Christmas. Teach us to do and be all that you need us to do and be so that we may be more in tune with Your Word. This Christmas help us to echo the Good News that the Angels pronounced for all people.