Here we are. The day we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. It’s Christmas Day, the day when we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child at Bethlehem. And I am so pleased that we can gather on this very busy day to worship and remember, once more, the reason for the season. Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
Joy? But is there really joy? I hear people talk about that sometimes at this time of year. There are a lot of people who don’t like Christmas. They find it a difficult time because of things that have happened in their lives. They find it hard to be happy in the midst of difficult circumstances and memories. I get that and that’s okay.
But just because it might be hard to be happy, that does not mean that you can’t still be joyful. That’s because – and this is where many people don’t quite it – joy and happiness are not the same thing. Let me try to explain.
Let’s go back to Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. Consider Mary, nine months pregnant, traveling the 110 km journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey. Do you think she was happy about that? Would you be? Then, after four or five days of bumping up and down along the road they arrive in Bethlehem only to discover that the inns are all full. Do you think Mary was happy about that? Would you be? And then one of the innkeepers – maybe out of kindness or maybe to make an extra buck – offers them a stable out back. It’s all he has left. I can only imagine what Mary would have said: “Hey Joseph, guess what? Our son is going to be born in a barn. Isn’t that just how we always planned it?” Not. Do you think she was happy about that? Would you be? The truth is that nothing was going right for Mary and Joseph as they prepared to welcome their first son into the world. In fact, if they would have scripted it out nine months earlier, this is not what they would have said they wanted. But that’s what they got.
Do you think Mary was happy about that? I don’t think so. I don’t think she was happy about any of it. In labour in a strange place with the animals to keep her company. I don’t think she was very happy at all about it. But was she still joyful? I think so. Despite what was going on around her, she was filled with joy and when Jesus was born and laid in the manger, her joy only increased. Not only did her joy increase. So did the joy of every other Christ follower in the world. Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
During this Christmas season all of us should seek joy, not happiness but joy. After all, remember the carol that says Joy to the World. It does not say happiness to the world. So what’s the difference.
Here are some of the differences. First of all, the Bible never promises us happiness. Not once. I can’t think of a single verse that tells us that we supposed to be happy. I need to say that it also doesn’t say anything about being miserable. But let’s stick with happiness. While the Bible never tells us to be happy, it does say that we are called to be joyful. John 15:11 (NIV) says, “I have told you this so that so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 16:22 (NIV) says, “So with you: now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” And then there is always Philippians 4:4 (NIV) which says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
But people say, “But why can’t I just be happy?” There is a reason for that and that’s the second thing I want to talk about. It’s because happiness depends up happenings. Did you get that? Happiness depends on happenings. The reason why you are not always happy is because the things that are happening in your life don’t always take you there. Mary wasn’t happy about traveling to Bethlehem when she was nine months pregnant. She wasn’t happy about having to use a stable for a birthing room. Those things were happening around her and they stole her happiness.
Or to put it another way. It’s okay to be sad. That’s because there are some things that we should be sad about. Here’s a video is about Stella who is sad at Christmas. She’s an older woman, now widowed. It seems that she has some family but none of them could make it for Christmas. And so she’s all alone. Let’s find out what happens.
It’s Christmas Day. Stella is all alone and she’s not very happy about it. She misses her husband. She misses her daughter and it’s Christmas time when families are supposed to be together to celebrate the holidays. She is not happy. She is sad on Christmas Day.
That can happen to any of us. In fact, it might be happening to some of us here today. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one during the year. Maybe you discovered that a friend was not quite the friend you thought they were. Maybe you’ve had health problems. Maybe this is the first Christmas without all of your family home together. All sorts of things can happen that affect your happiness. That’s the way life is sometimes.
But while happiness depends on happenings, joy depends on something else. Joy depends upon your attitude and your outlook. Joyful people remain joyful regardless of their circumstances. That’s because they know that while today they might be going through tough times, those tough times will come to an end. Do you know what that’s called? It’s called hope. And so it follows that joyful people are hopeful people. No matter how low things may get, they know that God has something better in store for them. It might be in this life. It might be in the next but it is definitely going to get better. That is the hope with which they live. That is the hope that enables their joy to grow and encourages them to live with joy no matter what the circumstances of life may bring them.
Stella is not happy so what does she do? Does she sit and mope? Does she feel sorry for herself? Perhaps a little. But then she settles down and makes some pastry. She cuts out two pieces. One is round and the other star shaped. With them, she creates a mincemeat tart, just one for herself to enjoy at Christmas.
But then she looks outside through the window and sees another lonely sole, a black bird sitting on a stump with nothing to eat. And so she cuts her tart in two and takes half of it out for the lonely hungry bird. Now they both have something to eat at Christmas.
But now it’s the bird’s turn. He sees Stella turn off the light and doze off in her chair. She’s still lonely but the bird thinks he knows how to brighten her day. He flies up to heaven and, as she sleeps, brings down the stars from the sky to decorate the tree outside Stella’s door. When it’s almost done, he calls from outside waking her up. Stella looks outside just in time to see him put the brightest star at the top of the tree.
The circumstances in which Stella and the bird find themselves is not conducive to happiness. But because of their attitudes and their willingness to reach out to each other, they still find joy.
So let’s go back to the question that I asked right at the beginning of this message. Is there really joy in this season? The answer is yes, there really is joy. Regardless of your circumstances, regardless of what has happened that has affected your happiness, you can still experience the joy of this season.
You can’t always be happy all of the time but you can always find joy.
Whatever your circumstances, you can find that joy that Stella found in sharing her Christmas with a black bird. You can find the joy that Mary found on that first Christmas morning when the angels sang and the shepherds came bringing their simple gifts and their humble hearts.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, O Gracious God, on this Christmas Day to give you all of the praise, honour and glory that you deserve. You have come to us to live with us. You are Emmanuel, God-with-us, the divine incarnation. You are our highest blessing and our greatest gift.
We are thankful for what we have in this life. And we give you praise for the generosity that it shown at this time of the years by those who are blessed with abundance. Remind us, once again, that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.
Holy God, in every challenging situation, we need to seek your wisdom, your way of doing things, and your deliverance and salvation. You have a solution to every problem and a perfect pathway through every circumstance. Enable us to discern and perceive your direction and leadership so that our decisions will be sound and successful. We set our hearts to be fully committed to you and your way.
Our prayers are lifted today for those who are experiencing loss or mourning in any way, and especially for the family and friends of Jim Merritt and Ken Sturdevant, who died this week and will be missed at Christmas. Our hearts go to all others as well who mourn the loss of someone around the table this day.
We remember those who are sick or recovering at home or in hospital this day. We pray especially for Mark, Carol, John, Ron and Rachel.
O God of Bethlehem, we give you thanks for coming here to earth and becoming one with us. You made it possible for all people to be saved and enjoy the assurance that is ours through faith. When we were without hope, you saved us. Although a lifetime of thanksgiving and praise would not be adequate for what you have done, accept our words of thanks and our offering of praise and help us to fully comprehend the abundant measure which is our blessing from you. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
December 25, 2022 / Christmas Day
Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146: 5-10; Luke 1:47-55 (Alt. Res.); James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
CALL TO WORSHIP
Let us praise God as long as we live.
Blessed are those whose help is in the Spirit.
Christ’s reign will last forever.
Praise God, O my soul.
Praise God, O my soul. Praise God for the redemption that is ours in Christ. Praise God that love glistened from a stable in Bethlehem. Praise God that in amongst the rude and ordinary things of Creation, a Saviour was born to shine light into the world. Shine that light upon us now, O God of Love. Fill us anew with your Spirit and with the new life that you have promised. Praise God, O my soul. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
The desserts shout for joy and the rocks sing your praises. But we have been guilty of falling away. The road that you set before us is straight and easy to follow. But there are times when we choose another path. We prepare our homes for Christmas but we forget to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child. We bake and cook our feasts but we put the hungry out of our minds. We ensure that there are many gifts under our trees but we neglect the needs of the poor. Convict us, forgive us and place our feet firmly upon the way of Christ. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God’s love is shown most clearly and profoundly in Jesus who was born at Bethlehem. He gave his life as a sacrifice for us that we may receive the gift of eternal life. By his wounds we are healed.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We come to you with our offerings, O God, meagre though they may be compared to the abundance with which you have blessed us. In faith, we turn to you and ask that you would bless us and our gifts. Amen.
The love of Christ is shown in this world by the way we love one another. May God’s compassion and peace be with us as we share the Good News of salvation.