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Rejoice Exceedingly with Great Joy

by Julia M. Bruce, MSPC, Mental Health Coach,
Keynote Speaker, CEO, Wellspring Christian Ministries

Week 3 of Advent: Rejoice

The Wise Men Rejoice

Among traditional Nativity scenes are three Magi, or Wise Men. However, the Wise Men did not see Jesus until he was a toddler. They did not arrive on the night of His birth. We also don’t know exactly how many wise men there were, but we traditionally place three in the Nativity scene because there were three gifts. In reality the wise men would have had a whole caravan of people traveling with them, especially with carrying the expense gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

What does the Bible tell us about these wise men?

One little boy had a unique perspective on who the wise men were. After returning from Sunday school, he was excited to tell his friends about what he had learned. He told them: “I learned in Sunday school today all abut the very first Christmas. Ya see, there wasn’t a Santa way back then, so these three skinny guys on camels had to deliver all the toys!”

Thankfully, the Bible does give us some insight into who these men were and puts it together for us:

We know that the magi were wise men from “the East,” most likely Persia, or modern-day Iran. This means the wise men traveled 800 to 900 miles to see the Christ child. Most likely, the magi knew of the writings of the prophet Daniel, who in time past had been the chief of the court seers in Persia. Daniel 9:24-27 includes a prophecy which gives a timeline for the birth of the Messiah.

The wise men were guided to look for the King of the Jews by a miraculous stellar event, the “Star of Bethlehem,” which they called “His star” (Matthew 2:2). They came to Jerusalem and asked concerning the birth of Christ, and they were directed to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:4–8). They followed God’s guidance joyfully (Matthew 2:10). When they arrived in Bethlehem, they gave costly gifts to Jesus and worshiped Him. God warned them in a dream against returning to Herod, so, in defiance of the king, they left Judea by another route (Matthew 2:12).

So, the magi were men who 1) read and believed God’s Word, 2) sought Jesus, 3) recognized the worth of Christ, 4) humbled themselves to worship Jesus, and 5) obeyed God rather than man. They were truly wise men!

An Example from the Magi

More importantly than knowing about who the magi were, is that there response to being in the presence of Jesus. Matthew 2:10 says:

When they saw the star, they rejoiced
exceedingly with great joy.”

Do we rejoice exceedingly with great joy in the presence of Jesus?

Can we say that we have the same response in presence of Christ as the wise men did? I don’t just mean when we are in church with our hands raised as they sing praise songs. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “ I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He is always with us. When we read then, about how the magi responded to the physical presence of Christ, we must keep in mind the reality that we are always in the presence of Christ. Perhaps this is why Paul wrote in Philippians 4:4, “rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!

Rejoice in the Lord Always

This exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord always” should not only challenge us, but it should also excite us because the Christian life is intended to be a joyful life. We are not to live as if we’ve been defeated. Jesus is victorious and through Him we live in victory too.

Christmas isn’t always a joyful time.

Christmas is not a joyful time. It’s true that the holiday season often inspires feelings of warmth, joy, and belonging. But for some people, this time of year can evoke feelings of loneliness, stress and anxiety.

Holidays and Mental Health

One survey by the American Psychological Association uncovered some interesting data about the holiday blues:

First, while the majority of people in the survey reported feelings of happiness, love, and high spirits over the holidays, those emotions were often accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating, and sadness.

Second, 38% of people surveyed said their stress level increased during the holiday season. Participants listed the top stressors: lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving, and family gatherings.

Third, 56 percent of respondents reported they experienced the most amount of stress at work. Only 29 percent experienced greater amounts of stress at home.

Holidays can create financial stress

Psychology today also reported that another poll of more than 1,000 adults by the Principal Financial Group — a global investment company — found that 53 percent of people experience financial stress due to holiday spending, despite the fact more than half set budgets for their holiday spending.

Why we have Holiday Blues and don’t rejoice

It is during the Christmas season when we seem to most profoundly miss those people in our life who have passed on. During the Christmas season when we become more prone to anxiety and depression. It is during the Christmas season when we seem to worry most about finances. For these reasons, the Christmas season is not always a joy for every individual.

Overcoming Holiday Blues

We can overcome the sadness and anxiety that bring on the Holiday Blues. As Christians we can win back our joy when we stop to rejoice in the presence of Christ. But, in order to do this, we must first recognize where our difficulties begin. Our difficulties begin when we focus on our circumstances rather than our status as a child who is loved by the Creator of the Universe.

Did Mary rejoice in her circumstances?

We must remember that Mary and Joseph were not overjoyed with their circumstances either. It is true, neither Mary or Joseph rejoiced at the news of Mary’s pregnancy. Mary, who was a virgin, was pregnant out of wedlock. “How can this be?” she asked the angel (Luke. 1:34). Matthew tells us that Joseph initially wanted “to put Mary away quietly” (Matthew. 1:19). In other words, he was going to give her a bill of divorce from their engagement. Mary was confused, Joseph wanted to break up–neither were happy with their circumstances. However, Mary was obedient and after the angel visited Joseph, he too was obedient.

Obedience leads to a change of heart

When we choose to obey God, even when we don’t understand we can experience a change of heart. We see this in Mary and Joseph. An angel convinced Joseph that he should not leave Mary and Luke chapter one records Mary’s new perspective on things, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior” (Luke. 1:46, 47).

A Lesson to learn from the Magi and Mary

The lesson to be learned here is clear: the Christmas season will be most joyful and life will be most joyful when we take our attention off our circumstances and learn to “rejoice in the Lord“.

To Rejoice in the Lord requires faith

Rejoicing in the Lord requires faith. We are told to rejoice without ceasing. That means whether life is good or bad, we are to rejoice in the Lord. We are instructed to rejoice without ceasing in something that we cannot see or touch. We can be encouraged by the faith of the magi. Matthew 2:10 tells us that they rejoiced with exceeding joy when they saw the star. They had not even left for their journey to see Jesus. They saw the star and had faith in the prophecies they had studied and set out by faith that at the end of 800-900 miles they would see the promised Messiah. The star was all the assurance the magi needed to be convinced of the presence of Christ.

We must stop asking God to rearrange the stars to spell out a sign for us and recognize that the Bible gives us reason to have assurance in the presence of Christ. And this presence should generate in us tremendous joy.

To Rejoice in the Lord requires genuine worship

The second response the magi had to the presence of Christ, we read about in verse 11, “And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshipped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh“.

The first response the magi had to the presence of Christ was that they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” and the second response they had to the presence of Christ was that they “worshipped Him” by giving Him “gifts.” Do we bring hearts of genuine worship that lead us to give Him gifts? The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12, that the gift we bring to Jesus is “to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Every part of our lives should be a form of worship to God. That means your marriage, your parenting, your career, your hobbies, your speech, your conduct, and your interaction with other people. The way you live your life each day should be an act of worship.

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh might have been acceptable to the infant Christ, but to the resurrected Christ Paul tells us we must “present (our) bodies” as our manner of worship and in our worship we are to rejoice exceedingly with great joy because we are in the presence of Christ.

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