Greg Clark with Cedar Crest

Christmas at Cedar Crest always centers around the themes of Advent. Though we are not a traditional church, the season of Christmas allows us the opportunity to remind ourselves of Church traditions which have been around for generations. In a day when so much is in a constant mode of change, it’s good to anchor to timeless traditions. The four weeks before Christmas we celebrate around powerful words of encouragement like Hope, Peace, Joy and of course Love. Let’s take a few minutes today and consider Christmas joy.

Author Randy Alcorn has written a book entitled, “Happiness.” Throughout the book he examines the biblical evidence of whether a difference exists between happiness and joy. Happiness to many is a burst of emotion around some good news of an event while joy would be a much deeper feeling of satisfaction with life. Alcorn contends that the biblical record from the Old and New Testament shows that both words, joy and happiness, are interchangeable.

In one of his first letters, the apostle Paul wrote to encourage new Christians to live godly lives. Near the end of his letter, he wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

From prison Paul challenged the Christians in Philippi to “Rejoice in the Lord always. (Philippians 4:4) These words come to us as commands. So, Paul was not making friendly advice, he was commanding those Christians to live with a mindset that was much different from those who lived around them.

Is it possible for us this year with the COVID-19 pandemic, the social unrest, the crazy election cycle and the uncertainty of the economy to follow the same biblical commands today? Can we rejoice always and have a spirit of joy as we finish 2020 and begin 2021? If you are thinking about an emotion you feel, then the answer is no. But, if you are talking about an attitude of choice, then the answer can be yes.

We can have the spirit of joy because Jesus is our continual source of Joy. The announcement of Jesus’ birth came to the shepherd with an angelic burst of joy. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) Imagine for a moment the surprise, the wonder, and the astonishment of those shepherds when the angelic choir began to sing praise to God. In that moment hundreds of Old Testament prediction were fulfilled and the joy of heaven could not be contained. Why did this announcement come to shepherds? Maybe it was to show the inclusive nature of salvation. Even those who were considered unworthy by the religious elite were welcomed to entrust their lives to Jesus.

Another way to cultivate a joyful spirit is to make what mattered to Jesus matter to us. Mel Walker, writing for Christianity.com put it this way. “Simply put, biblical joy is choosing to respond to external circumstances with inner contentment and satisfaction because we know that God will use these experiences to accomplish His work in and through our lives.” When we become followers of Jesus, we adopt a whole new way of living. Now, Jesus’ purpose is our purpose. I often use the phrase that we should “Love the Lord like he deserves and L for him, so he’ll be proud.” Our joy increases as we follow that simply relational guideline.

A final way to increase joy is to depend upon the promise of Jesus.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth; you know him for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17) When we entrust our lives to Jesus, he literally comes to live within us for all time. We never spend a moment outside his presence.

Pastor Rick Warren sums up the joy of walking daily with Jesus. “Joy is the settled assurance That God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every circumstance.”

Francesca Battistelli sings the beautiful song entitled, “You’re Here.” It’s a Christmas song about Mary thinking about the gift of Jesus to her and the world. The last stanza goes like this; “Someday I’m going to look back on this, the night that God became a baby boy, someday you’re going to go home again, but you’ll leave your Spirit and flood the world with joy.” The verse we have grown accustomed to seeing posted in all different ways and in many different places perfectly captures the joyous moment of the incarnation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Those who entrust their lives to Jesus can experience his fullness of joy.

All Scripture passages are quoted from the English Standard Version of the Bible.

•••

Pastor Greg Clark has been serving the Cedar Crest family since December 1997 as Lead Pastor. Though an Alabama native, he has served churches in Louisiana (Hammond, Independence, New Roads, and West Monroe) for the last 38 years.

Clark has earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Southeastern Louisiana University and a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry Degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

He has been married to his wife Mary for 40 years. Greg and Mary have two married children and four grandchildren.

Join worship at Cedar Crest on Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. You can also connect on Facebook (Cedar Crest Baptist Church) or online at CCBChurch.org.

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