Posted on: Sun, 12/11/2016 - 23:40 By: Trey Rowzie
Copyright 2016 Faithlife / Logos Bible Software

Introduction

Today we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent season. Advent is a time where we wait in expectation and prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In some Christian traditions, this third Sunday has a special name: Gaudete (Gaw-day-tay) Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice” - to feel or show great joy or happiness. Are you full of great joy and happiness this Sunday?

So, what makes you happy?...

A 2011 article from the Harvard Medical School publication “Healthbeat,” reported on various recent psychological studies that seem to point to one of the keys to maintain and increase our happiness long-term. Can you guess what is strongly associated with greater happiness?... Gratitude. “Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives.” The article noted that when the subjects focused on where that goodness comes from, people usually notice that these blessings come from outside themselves… assumably, this leads to greater gratitude.  But gratitude is still a feeling. So how do we cultivate this feeling of gratitude? … The article shared a few very practical methods.

  • Choosing to give thanks to whoever helped you. Tell them directly. Even say thanks in your mind
  • Take time to simply think about all the things that make you thankful (past, present, future)
  • Expressing your thanks by telling a friend or loved one about what you’ve received.

(http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-hap…)

Finally, there was one method mentioned in this secular health article that I didn’t expect… prayer.   Of course, the article did not go into much detail on this last point.

But for Christians, all of these ideas are wrapped into a life of faith in God. The difference is that this rejoicing and gratitude is directed mainly to God; not only people. Through thanksgiving, praise, and prayer, we find that:

“...the joy of the Lord is your strength” - Nehemiah 8:10 
“A joyful heart is good medicine…” - Proverbs 17:22 

So, we see that rejoicing in the Lord is good for us and helps us. But honestly, this is only a benefit of rejoicing and not the reason for it. And what does have to do with Christmas?

Christmas Carol Testimony

When you were a child what did you look forward to at Christmas time? Presents? Songs? Special Food? 

When I was a child  although I always looked forward to opening all my presents, what I looked forward the most was to sing the joyful songs of Christmas. To be honest, I wasn’t sure why I liked to sing those songs. For me, The lyrics were always mysterious and difficult to comprehend. They used strange grammar and centered around a story from a time long ago in a distant, dust land with shepherds, angels, and a mysterious star. And they all focused on the extraordinary birth of a baby named Jesus (who I honestly cared little about, although I felt I really should). However, hearing or singing that lovely music would often cheer me on the bleak and rainy winter nights. For those here recently, we’ve read about the angels’ surprise visit to shepherds in Luke 2.

This story is also poetically told in one of our Christmas carols “Angels We Have Heard on High” Let’s read the lyrics together...

  • We read here of the angels rejoicing so loudly that the mountains echoed.
  • What is the shepherds response?
  • They to begin rejoicing too.
  • Then, they go and find baby Jesus.
  • That’s really all the song is about.

As a boy, this was one of my favorite Christmas carols. Actually, at other times of the year when I was sad or lonely, I would secretly sing bits and pieces of Christmas songs like, "Gloria in excelsis Deo." Now, I don’t speak Latin. So, I had no idea what it meant but the sound of it always filled me with comfort and joy. 

Then one summer's day when I was 24, I started reading the Bible seriously and began to believe that God loves each of us dearly (including me). I learned that God gave his son Jesus to free me of the guilt and burden of my sins. 

What I found amazing was that next Christmas, when I sang those songs that I loved as a child, the words and the story of those songs finally made sense. It was just as if I had been studying Latin and for the first time and correctly understand the meaning of "Gloria in excelsis Deo"…   "Give glory to God in the highest!"

Life changing.

Before the First Christmas

Of course, the concept of rejoicing in the Lord can be found long before Jesus’ birth. “Rejoice” in Hebrew is “gil” which is found over 50 times in the Old Testament and means “to be exceedingly glad” or “shout with joy.”  

Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! - Psalm 149:1~3

All of Israel celebrates with great exuberance and song to their Lord and God.

The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. - Psalm 97:1

Not a localized event. Not just Israel; Everywhere. Even in these distant shores of Japan.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. - Psalm 13:5

This rejoicing is relational and very personal.   

After Jesus’ Birth

Wise men from the east following that wondrous star that proclaimed Jesus’ birth. Listen to their reaction:

… And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him... - Matthew 2:9~11

Just like the wise men, as Christians, we are also instructed to rejoice and worship God as well.

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

Note: rejoicing being tied to prayer and giving thanks that we talked about earlier. Even though happiness is a feeling. Here we see that rejoicing and thankfulness as being a choice.

Also, there is a subtle change in meaning with the Greek word for “Rejoice” used here. “Chairo” (khah-ee-ro) which is used over 70 times in the NT is a conjugation of the word “charis” (khar'-ece)  which means “grace” or “favor.” So, the more specific definition would be “to delight in God's grace” or literally, “to experience God's grace/favor and be conscious/glad for His grace.”

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. - Philippians 4:4

Here is my paraphrase:
Be conscious of experiencing God's favor always. Be exceeding glad for His grace.
Be conscious of experiencing God's favor always. Be exceeding glad for His grace.

God/Heaven Rejoices

What would you said if I told you that rejoicing is not solely a human activity but more likely a mere reflection of what is happening in Heaven? Listen to how Jesus describes what happens when one person turns from sin and asks God to forgive them...

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” - Luke 15:10

So, there’s a party in heaven for each person who turns to God! Here is another wonderful example but from the Old Testament...

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. - Zephaniah 3:17

Wow, the idea of this... that the Sovereign Creator of all the universe is, even right now, belting out a joyous, anthemic love ballad to us with the whole choir of heaven as backup singers. I can't help but to be filled with awe and wonder at this… it makes me want to rejoice.  Finally, here is prophecy of the ends days when God calls His church, His bride, home to heaven...

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” - Revelation 19:6~9

Simply dwelling on that great day to come, it seems natural for Christians to rejoice. But just in case we forget, we are also instructed to choose to rejoice as well.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. - Philippians 4:4