I love the holidays! All of them! I unabashedly feast on Thanksgiving Day and scream cheers at the TV during the New Year’s Bowl games. As for Christmas, everything brings excitement and joy! After decades of celebrating the holidays, I’ve learned that celebration is not only fulfilling, it also brings life, faith, and health to my family and congregation.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to even get some Christians to rejoice. Inhibitions abound. Preoccupying burdens of duty dampen souls and tempt a Scrooge-like “humbug”—even from many saints. But I consider helping my flock to release the spirit of rejoicing to be one of my primary callings at holiday time.
“Rejoice!” Paul commanded the Philippians, and then he immediately repeated himself: “And again I say, rejoice!” I’ve often thought that while dictating those words, the apostle mused, If I only say it once, those dear ones in Philippi will fly on by it and miss taking action. Then, turning to the amanuensis to whom he was dictating the epistle in a Roman cell, he said, “Write that again: Rejoice!”
This isn’t hype—it’s hope, anchored in the permanent ground of God’s fulfilled promise, not in cheap promotionalism or fancy verbiage. I encourage every saint of God to reflect the glory and resound the joy of the angels’ song: “Gladness is today’s news! A Savior—to you—today!” Let’s celebrate in a way that makes Jesus’ love appealing to a love-starved and joyless culture. Some sincere saints see the holidays as a time to attempt to impose something godly on their relatives. Instead, let’s simply expose them to the raw reality of unhampered happiness. Let your light shine and His love overflow in a loving and sensitive way.
Of course, our celebration starts with a clear focus on the Lord. “Sanctify—give special place to—the Lord in your hearts; always ready to show others the reasonableness of the hope that fills your life!” (1 Peter 3:15, paraphrased). That verse, prompting our witness to an inquiring world, is especially applicable to our traditional year-end holidays. I can’t imagine anything more likely to open hearts to Christ than being exposed to the joy of Jesus in a home or congregation where people have learned to make the holidays happily holy. The world notices the difference between our true festive joy and its own hollow efforts at celebration. Sanctify the Lord God first—center everything around Him, worshipping with joyous song and featuring the timeless Word of His truth. Then rejoice! Let people learn what it’s like to live in the liberty that the truth and Spirit of Christmas really bring.
Sanctifying the season—making holidays happily holy—doesn’t require that we trash traditions to prove our piety. God’s grace in us not only brings personal progress in purity, but also His Holy Spirit within us has the power to infuse every part of life with beauty and blessing, if we’ll let Him. This means that amoral traditions may be taken by believers and converted to happy and holy occasions.
Giving presents can relive the story of the wise men and remind us that we serve a gift-giving God. A Christmas tree can represent the coming of the Light into the world and remind us that the greatest Gift of all was given to us on a tree, ushering out death and bringing us forgiveness, regeneration, and eternal hope.
Such conversion of tradition to meaningful observance is not a concession or compromise. It is sad that so many sincere believers have had the life “wrung out” of Christmas through the debunking tirades of people afraid of simple happiness. Rather than fleeing the innocent cultural traits of celebration, let’s “ring in” the season by choosing to fill our culture’s habits of celebration with deeper color, purifying them by our enlightened perspective, and radiating them with a richness of joy that only the original Spirit of Christmas can bring.
From Thanksgiving on, make your home and church a center of welcome to those who are hungry—whether for food, family, or fellowship. When people’s mouths are satisfied with good things and their souls are stimulated with signs of seasonal joy, then their hearts will open to the One who is central to it all. Let’s show people the love of God in Jesus Christ by example. Let the feasting of the holidays feed others with every delight—a testimony of joy that ignites hope and faith in a dreary world that only knows the momentary “kick” of a raucous office party or a bottle of bubbly.
Copyright 2006, 2010 by Jack W. Hayford, Jack Hayford Ministries
Our gift of this teaching article by Pastor Jack Hayford is made possible by your gracious support of the ministry. Partner with us online or call toll-free 1-800-776-8180 to donate (within the U.S.).