Joy to the World
by Pastor James Ho, December, 2001
Christmas is at hand. Guess everyone is busy preparing for the Christmas holidays. Kids are longing for this time of the year because they are looking forward to receiving gifts and more gifts. Their parents, uncles and aunts are digging deep in their pockets to fulfill the children’s wishes. Some romantic couples may try another round of gift exchange with one another. Hopefully, none will be too disappointed with what they get despite the recent economy slowdown. We all at least try to participate in the spirit of Christmas à a spirit of giving.
Most recently I watched the world news. In one of the news, it talked about an incident happened in Brazil. If I recalled it correctly, an organization was trying to provide gifts to children who were deprived of such a luxury because of their poverty. However, it attracted so many children that there was a stampede to rush for the gifts. As a result, some of the children were trampled to death. What was supposed to be a joyful event turned out to be disastrous. All these poor children wanted is a gift. Little do they know that the best gift in the world was given over 2,000 years ago. It was God who bestowed the precious gift to us, by sending His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, born in a manger for the salvation of mankind. He is the Savior of the world, God’s gift of life to us. He is the gift that we all need, yet much too many people ignored. In this time of celebration, perhaps, we can refocus our attention to the true meaning of Christmas, the day that a Savior was born that brought Joy to the world.
According to the Gospel of Matthew 4:15-16, Jesus began His ministry in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali near the sea of Galilee. The passage was taken from the Old Testament in Isaiah 9:1-2. I will include verse 3 also... But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. Thou shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Thy presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
In those days, the nation of Israel was divided into 2 states, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Northern Kingdom sinned against God and fell into idolatry. God was angry and subsequently, the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and they became slaves of the Assyrian Empire. They were in anguish and despair. They realized their wrong and they eagerly pleaded for a Savior to deliver them from the yoke of slavery. It’s just like living in darkness or living in hell. They longed and yearned for deliverance. The prophet Isaiah prophesied that the day will come when a Deliverer will set them free from the power of darkness.
Then further down in Isaiah 9:6, it said... For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
These passages are directing us to know the importance of Jesus’ birth. He is the light that shines in the midst of darkness. He is the Prince of Peace, even as the Eternal Father. He is the everlasting God Himself condescending on earth to turn people from darkness to light. In His earthly ministry, He came not to deliver the Jews from the yoke of slavery in the physical sense, that is, to revolt against the Roman Empire and to restore Israel as a nation again. (That was fulfilled much later in 1948, May 14th when after being destroyed as a nation since 587BC, Israel resurrected as a recognized nation once again). He came to deliver all nations from the yoke of sin.
We all know that light gives life and prolong darkness leads to death. That is general science knowledge. Many of us are so eager in watching the TV series ‘Survivor’. Just last night while we were visiting a family, their 14 years old daughter suddenly sprang up from her chair and wanted to leave the room, we were all taken back by her abrupt departure, but just before she vanished into another room, she yelled out, “’Survivor is ON!” But I guess all these exciting episodes of the Survivor pale by comparison to living in complete darkness say for a week.
For us who are not physically blind, it is inconceivable how we can survive without light even for a few days. You may hear your mobile phone rings, but you grope in darkness to find where you last put it. You can’t sign on to the net because you can’t see the monitor. You try to cook but you can’t see what you are eating or whether the food is cooked or not. If you have been untidy in the past, you may end up tripping all over. As the days of darkness progress, how we wish that light will come? And when suddenly light dawns on us, how much joy do you have and how much you want to embrace the light and never let it go.
In the Bible, darkness is often referring to as under the power of evil (Ephesians 5:8-11; 6:12) which is opposing to light. When Jesus comes on earth, He is the Light of the world. The world is full of darkness because it is under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19). He comes to set us free from the power of darkness, the power of evil and the power of sin. Before we come to know God, we all are living in darkness. We all are under the bondage of sin. That’s why in the gospel of John 8, the incident about a woman being caught committing adultery, the scribes and the Pharisees came to Jesus to test Him what He would do to this adulterous woman.
According to the law, she should be stoned to death. But Jesus replied, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7). As a result, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones. Jesus was left alone with the adulterous women. He told her, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more!” The picture is clear, we all sinned, He alone is sinless! We can’t save ourselves. We can’t deliver ourselves from sinning. Nor can we justify ourselves before the Righteous and Living God. We are doomed to eternal perdition. That’s why we need desperately a Savior, a deliverer who can redeem us and save us from the bondage of sin which leads to eternal condemnation. Thanks be to God, who 2,000 years ago, gave us His Son as our Savior. Now, we can rejoice because once we were lost in the grip of darkness, now we are found and our sins forgiven by the precious blood of our Lord Jesus.
So I hope that this Christmas brings a vivid remembrance of the love of God to mankind, the giving of His only Son as Savior of the world. Whoever comes to Him and seek forgiveness of sins, He will redeem him with His precious blood. We were once under the slavery of the evil one, now we are FREE in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ ministry is a ministry of calling for repentance (Matthew 4:17) and of empowering us with the Holy Spirit to be children of God (Ephesians 1:7, 13-14; Romans 8:16). His role as a Savior is that through forgiveness of sins, He brings sinners reconciling to God.
One who receives forgiveness of sin would experience the immense love of the Lord and learn to forgive one another too. Even in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:12-15, it said... And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
The only way we can truly experience the spirit of Christmas in the sense of having Peace on earth and Joy to the world is when our sins have been forgiven and we learn to forgive one another. The Lord Jesus summarizes all the laws into 2 commandments (Matthew 22:37, 39): You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind. AND You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Hope that in this time of celebration of Christmas, we can learn to forgive one another if there is any unresolved dispute, any severed relationship. I have seen family feud, marriage breakdown, broken families, all because of relationship problems and neither party wants to forgive one another. It just grieves my heart. If it grieves my heart, certainly it grieves the Redeemer’s heart whose sole purpose is to mend relationship to God and to all men.
I know that sometimes it is hard to seek forgiveness. For one thing, one needs to humble oneself to ask for forgiveness. It takes courage and lots of faith to do that. It’s even worse when the offended person refuses to forgive the offender. It further brings humiliation to the offender. That’s why both parties need to put the Lord’s prayer into practice. However, even if the offended party doesn’t want to forgive, if the offender truly repents and asks for forgiveness from the Lord first, the Lord will surely pardon the person and receive the person with His mercy and grace. Once you have experienced the forgiveness from God, you will never be the same. There will be an inner peace in your heart and joy overflows. You will be more sensitive to sin and you will in fact abhor sin because you don’t want to live in darkness again. One who is truly free should not be succumbed to habitual sinning. He will grant you power to overcome your habitual sinning. I know that sometimes the offended person doesn’t want to forgive the offender because the person keeps on committing the same transgression repeatedly. Nevertheless, let the offended person learns to trust in the Lord and forgives the person as he himself receives forgiveness from God. God will deal with every person in His own way. He is the true Judge and vengeance belongs to Him (Romans 12:19).
So in conclusion, how do we experience true Joy and Peace in the world if we can’t even resolve the relationship problem within even our closest family members? First and foremost, if we have harbored sins in our lives, then seek genuine forgiveness from God. God searches our heart and will forgive our transgressions based on our genuine repentance. Then, we should learn to forgive one another and we plead to God to help us to do just that. If we have offended someone, pray to God and take courage to seek forgiveness from the person. God will grant to us the courage to seek forgiveness and to forgive. If we can do that, then we can all proclaim ‘Joy to the World’ because we have a Savior who can set us free from the bondage of sin and turn us to live victoriously as children of light. For those who have not yet committed to God, I hope that this Christmas can direct your attention to pursue the Lord because He alone is the Savior of the world.
I remembered a movie called ‘Pay it forward’. It was a touching movie of a boy putting his dream into practice by helping the needy. The condition is that the one that receives help will in turn offers help to another who needs help. Eventually, the whole community caught the vision. If we can achieve harmony and peace within the family through loving one another and forgiving one another, then we can have this vision of spreading this joy and peace to a wider spectrum and eventually to all nations. May the Grace and Peace of God be with you all and the Joy in the Lord be your strength.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church