Let’s Unwrap Some Christmas Presents Early…The First One Is

This month I think we will dwell on Christmas gifts. We all love Christmas gifts. I know we, as adults, say it’s all about making sure the little ones have Christmas, but deep down inside we love getting gifts too. I am going to share with you this month just some of the Christmas gifts God has given to us. They are in no special order. Of Course I will save some of the best gifts for last. 
When I think of Christmas gifts I love to think of a beautiful package. There are so many that have the gift of gift wrapping. I am not one of them. My gifts are nicely wrapped but not excessively beautiful. Think about a present you have received that was elegantly wrapped. How did it make you feel when you found out the gift was meant for you alone? Weren’t you excited as you took the gift in your hands? I bet you hated opening it because it was so beautiful and you hated to mess it up. You might have even tried opening it up without messing it up, but you probably couldn’t. That’s the way it is with God’s gifts. He hands them to us beautifully wrapped and he can’t wait for us to open them. He gets just as excited giving them to us as we are taking them from him. But then something happens. Fright sets in and we are afraid of messing up his gift. We are afraid of not using it correctly so often times we don’t open the gift to begin with. We say thank you I’ll open it later, but for too many later never comes. 
God has given us these gifts freely and without any obligation. They are ours without any price tag. Oh, I have messed up his gifts once in a while and I have misused them, but he gently comes back and reminds me that I misused them. He politely reminds me what the gift was intended for and I need to be more careful how I use the gifts he gives me. He doesn’t get mad, or take the gift back or stop giving me other gifts. He is so loving and gentle and is a great giver of gifts. 
One of the first gifts we are going to talk about is the gift of joy. Joy is different than happiness. Joy is something that comes from within while happiness is dependent on circumstances, or the things we have in our lives. I am happy when I have a new car, I am happy when people love me, I am happy, when things are going well, but when we experience joy we are joyful no matter our circumstances. 
When we experience God for the first time He offers us the gift of joy. I can remember a number of times that I have experienced joy in God. Some of them have been times at church camp, or Emmaus walks or retreats, and even coming out of church after a worship service. I have even walked away from funerals with joy in my heart, not because a friend or loved one has died, but because of the joy knowing he/she is now with God and the service was one of celebration. 
It’s often said joy comes in the morning, but you can experience it at night. When you lay down and you feel joy because you have made it through the day, or you got it right; all of those times comes from the gift God gives us. 
Joy appears 88 times in the Old Testament in 22 books; 57 times in the New Testament in 18 books. I am thinking God thinks joy in our lives is pretty important. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 says, this “Rejoice always and delight in your faith;” We are told to rejoice always; not sometimes, but always. 
If you were deciding to follow Christ and you looked at two different Christians one was a very joyful person and the other a rather dour person which one would you want to represent Christ? Would you want to follow Christ because you see the joy in one person or would you choose to walk away because of the one with a grim face? God calls us to be joyful. Being joyful brings others to Christ. But, as I say that I want you to know he wants us to be joyful from the heart not put on a front. We can only be joyful when we have a relationship with Christ. It becomes real and not put on. 
Joy is a gift God offers each of us when we decide to have a relationship with Him. He offers us joy as a result of what He has done for us. When things are crashing down around us we still can have joy. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”Habakkuk 3:17-18  When our world is coming down with a big boom or crash we can still know God’s joy. We can know God’s joy because we know we will not go through these things alone; that he is walking along side us and may be even carrying us. Joy comes from the Lord not our circumstance. 
We sing about the joy of the Lord is our strength. Nehemiah 8:10b, “ For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Twila Paris sings this,
The joy of the Lord will be my strength
I will not falter, I will not faint
He is my shepherd; I am not afraid
The joy of the Lord is my strength
The joy of the Lord
The joy of the Lord
The joy of the Lord is my strength
The joy of the Lord will be my strength
He will uphold me all of my days
I am surrounded by mercy and grace
The joy of the Lord is my strength
I hope this Christmas first and foremost you have a relationship with Christ. If you are pondering and dilly dallying, talk to me or any other joyful Christian we will help you on your way to a joyful life filled with God’s goodness. Second, I hope if you have a relationship with Christ you have opened the gift of joy. He’s offered it to you. You just need to rip it open in anticipation of all the good things it holds for you. 
Enjoy this Christmas season filled with many gifts from our Lord and Savior.
Dear God thank you for the gift of joy! Thank you for the joyful times I have experienced in the midst of chaos. Thank you for giving me good gifts. Let me never be afraid of opening them up and experiencing them to the fullest. Amen.

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