Greg Laurie - How To Have A Joyful Christmas
The title of my message is "How to Have a Joyful Christmas," and Christmas is here. I mean, all around us are the reminders. The pressure is on to go shopping. We're hoping we'll get the right thing for a loved one or will receive the thing that we're hoping to get this Christmas. I heard about a little boy that decided to write God and tell him what he wanted for Christmas. So he said, "Dear God, I've been a good boy for 2 months". But then the little guy thought, "Well, I am writing to God and God knows everything and he'll know I haven't been good for 2 months". So he crossed out 2, put 1 month. "I've been good for 1 month". Then he thought, "I haven't been good for 1 month". He crossed that out and said, "I've been good for 2 weeks". And he thought, "No, I haven't even been good for 2 weeks". He made it 1 week. Even that was too much. And so he had a thought. He walked over to the little nativity set. There's the figure of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. He grabbed the figure of Mary, went back to his letter, set the figure down, and wrote, "Dear God, if you ever want to see your mother alive again".
So that's one way to go at these things. Now, you go to the malls are crazy, aren't they? And parking spaces are so hard to find. Have you ever gone stocking for a parking space? Do you know what I'm talking about? So someone's coming out of the mall. They have their bags. They're going to their car. So you're looking for their space and, "Oh, there they are". So you put your signal on, and they take a year to put the bags away and you're waiting and people are backing up behind you. People are starting to honk, but you found this space. You're not going to let it go. And then the person puts the bags in the trunk and walks away. This cannot happen.
Listen, if you're going to your parking space in a mall and you're not going to leave, just signal us and say, "No, not going to happen. I am not going to leave". But, you know, this is the problem, is that people, and if you're one of those people, make sure you leave as quickly as possible. When you're in the car and you are leaving, don't check your phone. Don't check anything. Get out, and I mean that in Christian love. But, you know, because of the pressure, it can be a very hard time for a lot of people. You know, studies have shown that depression, anxiety, stress, and loneliness increase dramatically during the Christmas season; and this is ironic because the message of the angels to the shepherds 2,000 years ago who were keeping watch over their flocks by night was simply, "We bring you great joy". But a lot of people are not experiencing great joy right now.
Maybe you're thinking, "Well, I'll experience great joy when I finish my Christmas shopping," or, "I'll experience great joy when I get my next paycheck," or, "I'll have great joy when the hardship I'm going through ends". But listen, you're not going to find great joy in any of those things. We have to come back to the essential message of what Christmas is. It's not about what's under the tree, it's about who died on the tree. You see, Jesus was born to die that we might live. The incarnation was for the purpose of the atonement. He came with a specific purpose: to go to a cross, die for the sins of the world, and rise again from the dead. So you don't need Christmas presents to make you happy, you need Christ's presence in your life.
The message of this season is not shop till you drop nor is it let it snow. We need to go back to those wise men who got it right when they said, "We have come to worship". If you want a joyful Christmas, make it a Christmas that is filled with worship because the reality is commercial Christmas cannot deliver on its promises. It can't deliver the magic. It can't deliver the delight. It cannot deliver the hope that it promises, but Christ can. So let's go back to the first Christmas. Let's go back to the story as presented to us in the Gospel of Luke. And by the way, turn in your Bible to Luke chapter 2. So when we last looked at the Christmas story, we found the very young woman named Mary being told that she was going to be the fulfillment of a Bible prophecy. The angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her she would literally be the fulfillment of the promise of the prophet Isaiah and she would bring forth the Messiah.
Of course Joseph wasn't buying this, but an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him to take Mary as his wife because one that was going to be born would be called Jesus, and he would save his people from their sins. Now, seemingly out of nowhere but really right on God's schedule, Caesar Augustus gives a ruling that all the world should be taxed. You know, it's a funny thing, Caesar, history tells us he was actually a small little guy. So Little Caesar, if you will, gave his decree, "Pizza, pizza", no not really. He gave his decree everyone should be taxed. And so now Mary and Joseph find their way back to Bethlehem because that is where they were rooted. They were both of the house of David, but even that was for a purpose because Micah said that out of Bethlehem the Messiah would come. He said, "Thou, Bethlehem, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth one whose origins have been from everlasting," or a literal translation would be the vanishing point.
So this was all part of God's big plan to accomplish his purposes because history is his story. The reality is history swings on the hinge of the door of a stable in Bethlehem, and there the Son of God was born. And, of course, Jesus wasn't a mere man or just a prophet, he was God coming to us in human flesh. As he entered our world he was God with skin on literally walking among us and the birth of Jesus was one of the most momentous events in all of human history because the eternal God literally became a fetus and was born of a woman, and he did this in order to become the Savior of the world. So really when you get down to it, the story of Jesus is not a rags-to-riches story. It's a riches-to-rags story because God left the glory of heaven. Jesus left the comfort and the bliss of being surrounded by the angels and being in the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit to be born in a barn, in a very unsanitary environment as he entered our world.
And when the first Christmas came, most people missed it all together. There were no twinkling lights hanging from the eaves of buildings. There were no reindeer on anyone's lawn. Children did not find it hard to sleep that night because basically it was a night like any other night. In fact, on the first Christmas it was business as usual. It was a bleak time spiritually for the Jewish people. There had been an icy silence from heaven and the Jewish people had not heard from God for 400 long years. Not one angelic appearance, not one prophet speaking for the Lord, not one miracle had been performed for 400 years and then out of nowhere but really right on God's timetable everything changes and the announcement goes out that Jesus has been born, but everyone missed it. The innkeeper missed it. He didn't have room in his inn for Jesus. The people of Bethlehem missed it. The people of Rome missed it. The religious leaders missed it.
Even when King Herod went to them and made them aware of the birth of this child and what does this mean in the Bible and they knew the Scriptures to go to that spoke about Messiah, but they didn't make this short journey from where they were to go see in Bethlehem if this was true. Everybody missed it for the most part. So now God is going to make the greatest of all announcements. You know, when you have good news you can't wait to share it, and I wonder if up in heaven the Lord said, "Okay, I need some angels to get this message to planet Earth that Messiah has arrived". Oh, everyone would have volunteered, and the Lord might have said, "Well, I'm thinking of sending Gabriel". "Oh, Lord," another angel might say, "he got to go last time. I want to go". The Lord says, "All right, you can all go". And God sent thousands of angels to make the announcement of the birth of Jesus. And who did they make this announcement to? According to the Christmas story, shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Let's revisit that story now. I'm reading from Luke 2 starting in verse 8. "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone about them, and they were greatly afraid. And the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you. You'll find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.' And so it was when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherd said one to another, 'Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.'"
So here's my first point, if you're taking notes. The highest message came initially to the lowest of people. Again, the highest message came initially to the lowest of people. I mentioned last time that we've overly romanticized the Christmas story and we miss the raw power of it, and here's another example. I talked about how we've sort of sanitized the birth of Jesus and the manger and we've missed the fact that it was a very difficult place for a little one to enter this world.
Now let's think about the shepherds. You know, we think these shepherds were these wonderful people, and they were in their way, but these were the very outcasts of society. If we updated this today and we read there were telemarketers calling people late at night or there were used car dealers trying to close deals we would have a different view of this, and that's how you have to think of a shepherd. They were not looked at in a positive way, they were looked at in a negative way. We've romanticized them and don't understand who they were. The shepherd was so low on the social ladder. The only one that was worse than them was an actual leper. They were stereotyped and maligned. For instance, the testimony of a shepherd was not even allowed in a court. Rabbis banned pasturing sheep and goats in Israel except on desert plains, and the Mishnah, which gives out Jewish law, said if a shepherd fell into a pit you weren't even required to rescue them.
So I mean, they're the lowest of the low. No one wants to hang around with a shepherd. No one likes the shepherd. So up in heaven God says, "Who shall we tell first? Who should we reveal this message to, that Christ has been born"? Not Caesar, not the religious leaders, not the influential folk who could potentially influence others. The highest message came initially to the lowest of the low. Into this social context of religious snobbery and class prejudice, the son of God stepped forth. God handpicked these shepherds to hear this news. He left the self-righteous hypocrites off the mailing list. Are you in God's mailing list? If you're a Christian you are, and he brings us good news. So this is something that is very important to remember, that he took the highest message to the lowest of the low.
Number two, the message of the first Christmas was a message of joy. It was a message of joy. Verse 10, the angel said, "Don't be afraid. Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which will be to all people". Not a little joy, not some joy, great joy. That is the message of Christmas. It's great joy. God wants you to have a joyful and happy Christmas this year, but the reality is, and I touched on this earlier, the holidays can be sad for a lot of folks. Maybe there's something happening in your home that's making this a hard Christmas. I just read that the surgeon general has issued a warning about the mental health of young people, and the surgeon general told the newspaper that one in three high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. That's a 40% increase from 2009 to 2019, and suicide rates went up during this time by 57% among young people ages 10 to 24. And then he pointed out during the pandemic rates of anxiety and depression have only increased.
Man, this is sad. People are down. That's why we need to tell them the real message of Christmas. No matter what you're going through, there's great joy. Again, not in what's under the tree, not in the celebration of Christmas with all of its trapppings but in the essential message of Christmas. I was recently interview by a newspaper. I was asked about a Pew Research study that had been done. And in this study, this was stated, quote, "Most Americans say they have spent some time in the past year thinking about big questions like the meaning of life, or whether there is any purpose to suffering, and why bad things happen to people," end quote. The age-old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people"?
I don't have an answer that would probably satisfy you, but I can say this. Despite the bad things that can happen in our lives, we can turn to God. There are things that happen that are utterly inexplicable. And if you have suffered loss, if a loved one has left you and you're now celebrating Christmas, it might be even harder. A time that should be happy can suddenly become miserable. You know, our son Christopher went to heaven 13 years ago, and I remember the first Christmas we celebrated after he died and it was absolutely devastating because he loved Christmas and he really got into it. He was a great wrapper. He wrapped presents so beautifully. He didn't get that from me, but he'd get out his X-Acto blade and a tape and do all these cool things. He made custom Christmas cards for people, and he loved this time.
So all those memories flood into your mind when you're there supposedly having a good time and it's actually a very sad time, and maybe I'm talking to someone right now that's really sad. In fact, you're so sad you wonder if you should even keep living. You've even thought about taking your own life. Please, please don't even consider that. You are loved by more people than you will ever realize, and you are needed and you are wanted. And best of all, you're loved by God. And listen, he has a plan for your life. And what is the message of Christmas? It's that God is with us. Remember, you shall call his name Immanuel. And what is the purpose of Christmas or the purpose of Jesus being born? I already mentioned it. Jesus was born to die. He was going to the cross. You see, at the cross Jesus defeated sin, but at his resurrection he defeated death.
So here's the message if you've lost a loved one. If they died in faith, if they died trusting Christ, you will see them again. We don't say goodbye, we say see you later. Let that resonate with you 'cause that's what Christmas is really all about. My third point is fear robs us of the joy of Christmas. Fear robs us of the joy of Christmas. Look at 2:10. The angel said to them to not be afraid. What powerful words, what relevant words for the time we're living in right now because fear can cancel out and rob us of our joy. And, man, we live in frightening times, don't we? Don't be afraid. I heard that the phrase fear not appears 365 times in the Bible.
Now, I've not checked that personally, but I heard it's there 365 times. That means there's one fear not for every day of the year. So whatever you're facing right now, God would say don't be afraid because fear will rob you of your joy. Let go of that and choose to rejoice. Why should they rejoice? Very simple answer. There is born to them in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. That brings me to my fourth and final point. We can have joy this Christmas because we have a Savior who is Christ the Lord. You have a Savior. What did he save you from? Saved you from sin. Saved you from hell. He saved you from judgment. The fact is he saved us, he's saving us, and he will yet save us. So he saved us. We're forgiven of all of our sins. And our sins are not only forgiven, they're also forgotten. But then he's saving us.
Says you're struggling with temptation and other issues, he's there to help you and sustain you and strengthen you and ultimately he will save you when you get to heaven and you enter into his presence. A wonderful thing. It's a Savior who was Christ the Lord. So he saves us, but then as our Lord he protects us and he watches over us and one day he will welcome us into heaven.
Let me ask you this in closing. Do you find yourself depressed right now? Do you find yourself in pain? Are you lonely? Are you feeling despondent? I have good news for you. A Savior has been born, and this Savior is ready to come into your life. As I pointed out on my last message, Jesus was born so we might be born again. Jesus said to a religious man named Nicodemus, "You must be born again". What does that even mean? It means you need to have a spiritual rebirth where you'll say to God, "I need your help. I need your forgiveness, and I want Jesus to come into my life and be my Savior and my Lord". And he can do that for you right now. The same Jesus who was born in the manger, who died on the cross and rose from the dead now stands at the door of your life and he knocks and he says if you'll hear his voice and open the door he will come in.