In Matthew 2 and Luke 2 we read about two groups of men who were invited to visit the newborn Jesus after his birth: the Wise Men from Matthew 2, and the Shepherds from Luke 2. Both groups of men learned of the birth place of Jesus and visited his family in Bethlehem, and both groups of men left that encounter overflowing with joy. In the sermon I preached this week, we learned that the source of the joy of the Wise Men and the Shepherds was not that they got to cuddle a cute baby Jesus, but rather that God was true to his word. The Wise Men "rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" when the star came to rest over the town of Bethlehem because it was evidence that God was faithful to his promise to send the Messiah, and that he would be born in Bethlehem. And the Shepherds came away from their encounter with Jesus "glorifying and praise God for all they had seen and heard," because everything they had seen and heard happened exactly the way that God said it would happen.
The source of the joy of the Wise Men and the Shepherds was not anything external, but rather the certain reality that God is true to his word. When they discovered and believed this truth, all they could do was overflow with joy.
Let's face it: the Christmas season can be difficult. On the one hand, our culture tells us to be happy and joyful, and to enjoy our friends and family and food and gifts. But on the other hand, those times and seasons that are supposed to be happy and joyous occasions can be stressful and frustrating, and can be times when we feel our pain and suffering most deeply. Some people weep through the Christmas season because it is the first time that they have spent the holiday without a loved one who has passed away. It's hard to have the joy of Christmas when you're grieving loss. Others wonder how they can have any joy in their lives when they don't agree on anything with their spouse, and they're not even close to seeing eye to eye. Parents wonder where the joy of Christmas is when their children have wandered so far from their family and so far from God that it seems like they'll never return. It's common for these supposedly joyful seasons of the year to instead magnify all the things in our lives that aren't going the way we'd like them to.
But like the Wise Men and the Shepherds, our joy in life should not be determined by external circumstances. This is not to diminish the difficult things that happen in our lives, but rather to declare that the difficult things - and even the positive things - that happen in our lives cannot determine our joy. The reason for this is that the external circumstances of our lives change. Marriages do fall apart; families do crumble; unexpected health diagnoses do come; your body will break down over time. So if your joy is based on the condition of your marriage or your family or your health, then prepare to live in despair. If your joy in life is derived from circumstances, then prepare to ride a torturous rollercoaster because circumstances change, and sometimes life is downright miserable. Sure, sometimes things go well, but give it time.
Rather than finding our joy in the circumstances of our lives, we should take our cue from the Wise Men and the Shepherds, and find our ultimate satisfaction in the faithfulness of God. I don't mean to trivialize any of the deep and difficult troubles that you experience, but even in light of those difficulties we need to remember that God's word is true.
If you can't rejoice this Christmas because you are grieving the fresh loss of a loved one, you can rejoice because God's word is true.
If you can't rejoice this Christmas because your family is in shambles or because your marriage is falling apart or because your children are wayward, you can rejoice because God's word is true.
If you don't know what to do in your specific situation, you should rejoice that God does, and whatever he says about it is right and true.
If you don't feel like you have the strength to make it, you should rejoice in the fact that God does, and that he has promised to give you his own strength, and his promises are always kept.
If you don't feel like you could cry anymore than you have this Christmas, you should rejoice that God's word says that he is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit, and his word is true.
Those who trust in the Lord have a joy that is not derived from circumstances, but from an unshakable, indestructible trust that God's word is true. No matter what comes down the pike in your life, you can "rejoice exceedingly with great joy" because you know that God's word is true; he is faithful to his promises. That was the joy of the Wise Men and the Shepherds, and let that be your joy this Christmas and beyond: God is faithful; his word is true.
And the wonderful thing about Christmas is that it reminds us that anyone can have this kind of joy in their lives. When the angel appeared to the shepherds, he said, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." The good news of the faithfulness of God is for all people. Anyone can come to God and experience the joy of his faithfulness. Through repentance and faith in Christ you can have the joy of knowing for certain that your sins are forgiven and that the punishment your sins deserved was taken by Jesus on the cross. God has promised to do this for anyone who will call out to him in repentance and faith, and if you will trust in him, you too will find that God's word is true, and that will lead to your joy. No matter what debilitating circumstances you're in at this very moment, even if your suffering is self-inflicted, this joy is for you.
It's easy to get lost in all of the cares and concerns of life and be overwhelmed by our circumstances. It's easy to take God's faithfulness for granted. It's easy to have an entitlement mentality when it comes to God's faithfulness to his promises. Don't have that mentality. Instead, allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the glorious truth that God is faithful, and that he will do what he has said he will do: he will be with you, he will strengthen you, he will provide for you, and he will help you. That's who he is, in truth. Let that truth wash over you, and then respond like a shepherd: glorify and praise God for all that you have seen and heard.