Can it be Christmas all year?

Happy belated Christmas greetings! What was your favourite part of Christmas this year? Was it the gifts or the food? Time with family? The candlelit carol service?

The story of the Nativity is one we all know – perhaps one we are all too familiar with. Jesus, the Son of God, came as a human baby, born to Mary and Joseph in a stable, welcomed by animals, shepherds and foreign priests. An unusual but nonetheless familiar story. I asked the Lord for a fresh message this Christmas; to open my eyes to what He wanted to teach me about Himself this season. His repeated message to me was ‘Immanuel, God with us – the greatest gift’.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).                           Matthew 1:23

The Lord indeed opened my eyes to see that God’s gift of Immanuel has always been His desire – to be with His people. Countless verses throughout the Bible speak of God being with us. “Fear not for I am with you.” “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” “The Lord your God is in your midst”. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

  • God was with Adam in Genesis. He walked with Adam and talked with him – like father and son, like two lovers. Sin separated them and broke this relationship.
  • The Lord established a covenant relationship with the Israelites. Throughout the Old Testament, He reminded them over and over again of this covenant. “I will be your God and you shall be my people”. He chose to dwell among them in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. He spoke to them through various prophets to call His people back into the covenant.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 31:33

  • Jesus, the Son of God, came in human flesh. He came as the Immanuel to live among us. He died as the ultimate sacrifice to save us from our sins, that we might be reconciled with God. He rose to life and ascended into heaven to prepare a place for His people.
  • God sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within all who believe in Jesus Christ, restoring His image in us and bringing us in closer unity with Himself. He works through us to bring His presence on earth today.
  • We look to an eternal and complete intimacy with the Lord, a forever of being in perfect relationship with Him – the final fulfillment of Immanuel, God with us.

This is an overly condensed summary but the point is: our most needed gift is His presence. We were created to walk with Him, to know Him, to love and glorify Him. Christ came to solve the problem of sin – the sin that separated us from His presence. So, yes it should be Christmas all year round for all who believe in Christ and hope in the promise of an eternity of Immanuel! For any who are yet to join the (stress-free) never-ending Christmas party, the invitation is open to anyone and everyone who wants to know and believe Jesus and what he did for us.

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Rejoice in the Lord, always

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.” Philippians 4:4

What is joy? And how do we keep it despite circumstances and feelings?

Joy is one of the things that sets a Christian apart from the rest of the world. Paul commands (note imperative, meaning not optional) the Philippians to rejoice always. It’s easy to say, but how do we actually do it? During the ups and downs of my faith journey, I am most filled with joy when I have had an intimate experience of God, a divine revelation of Himself. But all too soon this fades away and I find myself having lost the joy of the Lord to the mundane-ness of my everyday life. Not that I don’t love Him or believe in Him anymore, but just joyless, unexcited.

Over the Christmas holidays, my church had a winter retreat around the theme ‘Rejoice’. How perfectly timed it was, since this was exactly what had been bothering me for the past few months. We studied the book of Philippians, focusing solely on this theme – I would encourage you to try the same, as it was such a great blessing!

Rejoicing is a choice

Joy is not just an emotion. It’s different to happiness, and it’s not dependent on fun either. I guess it’s not dissimilar to love, in the sense that it is a choice we make on a daily basis. It being a choice is very significant. I can choose to rejoice. I don’t have to be affected by circumstances or emotions when it comes to rejoicing. Meaning I have the ability to rejoice all the time. Praise God!

Rejoice in the Lord

The reason we can choose to rejoice in all circumstances, is because our joy does not come from things that change. Paul says to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in who He is. Rejoice in His unchanging love. Rejoice in His gift of salvation. Rejoice in the hope we have of eternity, because of all He has done. Rejoice in the Lord who does not change – He is our solid Rock, our Anchor, our Foundation – this is the reason our joy does not change!

Rejoicing is a battle

There are things that help us keep our joy, and things that take away our joy. I strongly recommend you read through Philippians and write a list of what these things might be. Some things that increase our joy include being content (4:11-12), interceding for each other (1:19), and proclaiming Christ (1:18).

Examples of things that make it harder to rejoice include changes in environment (e.g. Paul’s imprisonment), hostile attitudes of other people (e.g. the selfish preachers in 1:17), and ill health or death (e.g. Paul’s potential execution). These things are mostly out of our control, but Paul changes his perspective on these things and chooses to rejoice over them:

  • He rejoiced over his imprisonment because it expanded his ministry to authoritative figures he would not have reached otherwise, and encouraged others to speak the word of God more boldly
  • He rejoiced over the selfish preachers because Christ’s name was still being proclaimed, no matter what their motivation
  • He rejoiced over his potential execution, because his death would bring him to his heavenly home with Christ.

Mind-blowing!

Not all downers are out of our control though – some things we can and would be wise to avoid. Such things include selfish ambition and conceit (2:3), grumbling and dispute (2:14), and setting our minds on earthly things (3:19). This kind of links with things we can do to increase our joy – serving and giving to God (2:17-18 & 4:18) is the opposite of selfish ambition, humility (2:3) does not allow for conceit or dispute, being content protects against grumbling, and proclaiming Christ fixes our eyes on heavenly things instead of earthly things.

There are many others, and they are truly life hacks!

Rely on the Holy Spirit for help

No matter how hard we try, there will be times when the going gets tough. Remember that with all these things, we need God’s help. Rely on the Holy Spirit (2:19) for strength and perseverance in making these small changes to your life, in order to hold on to that joy in Christ.