It’s interesting. There are people out there who love the Christmas season. They love it so much they had the Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving. They started planning Christmas gifts in July. They dressed up as a reindeer for Halloween. Those sorts of people. The celebration just can’t come soon enough.
And then there are people who have a hard time during the Christmas season. I’m not talking about scrooges. I’m talking about those of you who have suffered loss, who have been hurt, or who carry scars that seem to break back open this time of year. For those of you in that camp, celebrations are reminders of all those wounds.
Those who really love to celebrate can get frustrated or discouraged by those who struggle through the Christmas season. And those who struggle with the Christmas season can get irritated by those who celebrate joyfully during the Christmas season. The author of the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon of Israel, knew that each season of life comes with ups and downs. Let’s read what he wrote:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Ecclesiastes 3:1–13, ESV)
For everything there is a season. The Christmas season is…
…a time to heal.
…a time to build up.
…a time to laugh.
…a time to dance.
…a time to embrace.
…a time to keep.
…a time to love.
…a time for peace.
God has made everything beautiful in its time. For some, life seems like a continual stream of struggles and disappointments, but God will make life beautiful in his timing.
Solomon said that there is nothing better for us than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live. He said that we all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all we do. He said that pleasure in life is God’s gift to man.
God wants you to experience the gift of joy as you celebrate this Christmas season.
So, there is a time to…
Heal and Build Up
In the passage, Solomon says pretty clearly that God has given humankind a gift of pleasure. To be joyful, to celebrate, to laugh and dance, is to enjoy the good gifts that God has given us.
There is a problem when we enter into a season of celebration, and when someone is discouraged, depressed, or frustrated with the season. God’s heart is to see that person healed from their discouragement and built up where they were torn down.
In 1 Thessalonians 5, the Apostle Paul speaks of the Day of the Lord, this day when Jesus will return and the whole world will undergo judgment.
He says that the people of the night—that is, those who walk in darkness—they should be fearful of coming judgment. People who don’t follow Jesus as Lord, but revel in their sinful behavior should have reason to be troubled, reason to be depressed, reason to be frustrated with life.
Paul specifically references alcoholics who get drunk at night to drown their sorrows. But, then he says this about those who walk in the light:
Since we belong to the day, let us be sober…For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us…Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:8–11, ESV)
Do you see the connection there?
Someone who is discouraged, depressed, frustrated with life needs healing. They need built up. They need encouraged. They need people to spend time with them and express care for them.
So, notice, this isn’t an exhortation to those who are discouraged by this season to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and put a smile on their face. Paul specifically says that we are to encourage one another.
When someone is down, those who are joyful are to lift that person up, encouraging them with the news that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has come to right every wrong, heal everything broken, make strait the paths of the righteous.
For adults, this can be hard. We need to invest a lot of time listening to others and asking questions. It can be tempting to try to give people quick fixes to their problems. We want to tell them, everything is going to be fine in the end, so cheer up now! But, it’s not that simple.
It’s funny, from time to time, I’ll go see a biblical counselor. And I always have to remind them that it’s different counseling a pastor than someone else, because I already know when they’re going to say. They are going to say the exact same thing that I would say to someone else in my situation—whatever that might be at the time.
That’s just my joke though; it’s really not any different for me than anyone else. No one responds well to quick fix answers. The handful of times I’ve gone to a counselor it has been really helpful. Not because they gave me answers for my problems, but because they listened to me. They empathized with my situation and they validated my feelings. That’s where real encouragement comes into play.
But, this isn’t just for adults. Kids can do this too. You can help to heal and build up your friends who feel alone or get sad at times. Look for the person that’s off on their own. Talk to them. Listen to them. Share a candy cane with them. Tell them jokes.
And whether you are a kid or an adult, pray for them. Pray that the Spirit of God would heal them and build them up. And I don’t just mean, say, “I’m praying for you!” I mean, stop where you’re at, open you mouth, start out ‘Dear Jesus’ or however you tend to start your prayers and right there in their presence pray that God would help them.
Celebration starts here. We don’t celebrate alone. We build up those who are downcast around us so we can celebrate Christ, together. We want to make sure everyone can celebrate with us. When we celebrate, we are to lift each other up with prayer and with the words of hope that do not disappoint so that others can enjoy this season, the time to…
Dance and Laugh
I think we get laughing. There’s different kinds of laughing, though.
Have you ever been kind of grumpy and some one tries to make you laugh by tickling you, making faces, telling a joke?
We do that in my family, and I don’t really know why, because if you’re in a bad mood and someone forces you to laugh, it just makes you more grumpy.
That’s not the kind of laughing Solomon is talking about.
He means the kind of organic laughter that comes from a group of old friends sitting around a table sharing great memories of times past.
He means the kind of laughter that happens when a group of kids lie of the floor drawing silly pictures.
He means the kind of laughter that a husband and wife share as they watch their children open their Christmas presents.
He means the kind of laughter that flows from the heart as your mind lets go of every fear and frustration; when you let your guard down because you know you’re in a safe place, surrounded by those who love you; when you are really in the moment and everything you are experiencing right now is joyous and glad and grateful towards God for the blessings—maybe not in all of life—but the blessings of that perfect moment.
There is a time for that sort of laughter and the Christmas celebration warrants us this opportunity.
Christianity isn’t about stoic religiosity. It’s about finding joy in this life and in the life to come through Jesus Christ. So, we laugh and we dance.
Now, when we are told there is a time to dance, we aren’t talking about learning the newest hip hop dance—whatever that may be at this time.
What Solomon means when he says there is a time to dance is that there are going to be times when your joy is so great and your pleasure in God is so profound that it’s just not enough to stand or sing as an act of praise, but your body must move as well.
You see it at football games all the time, especially when you’re watching around the TV. A great play or a touchdown and all the guys are up out of their seats waving their arms around. That’s the kind of dancing we are talking about.
We see this happen in 2 Samual 6, when King David—King Solomon’s Father—brings the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem. He was so happy that,
David danced before the Lord with all his might. (2 Samuel 6:14, ESV)
I don’t even know what that looks like to dance with all your might, but there is a time for it.
I bring up this passage for an important reason, though. You’ve got to think about this. God had delivered the Israelites into the Promised Land, this great land full of all sorts of blessings. They couldn’t have been more thrilled with life at this time.
So, what’s the deal with the Ark?
The author of the letter to the Hebrews explains this in chapter 9 of the letter. He explains that, in the tabernacle, there was an inner chamber covered by a curtain called the holy place. In the holy place was the ark of the covenant and the presence of the Lord resided there.
Bringing the Ark into Jerusalem means that the presence of the Lord was now in Jerusalem. David knew that being in the presence of an almighty and yet merciful God was something to dance for.
So, here’s where the Christmas celebration comes into play. The author of Hebrews says,
But when Christ appeared…he entered once for all into the holy places…by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11–12, ESV)
Jesus entered into this world as a flesh-and-blood human being so that he could shed his blood in order to satisfy God’s wrath due us for our sin, thus securing for us who believe and follow Him, eternal redemption.
That’s a really complex and theological way of saying that Christmas is about the presence of God entering into our world. It’s about God’s presence being available to everyone and it’s about having access to God now and for eternity.
If the presence of God is something to dance about, then Christmas is for certain a time to dance. As you attend Christmas services, do so with the intent that you will experience the presence of God. As you celebrate advent in your homes, with your families, do so to experience the presence of God. As you celebrate Christmas, however you do, do so to experience the presence of God … and if so moved, by all means, dance before the Lord with all your might!
Christmas is a time to heal and lift up. It’s a time to dance and laugh. And Christmas is a time to…
Keep and Embrace
Speaking of keeping, Solomon actually says, ‘a time to keep, and a time to cast away.’ He means that all things have a lifespan. You keep it as long as it is the time to keep it. Keep it if it serves you well. But, when it loses it’s usefulness, cast it away. Throw it out.
Kids can learn a lesson there—actually, we all probably can. Around Christmas when gift-giving is going on, it might not be a time to keep stuff. It might be a time to cast away some of the old, broken things that clutter up your life.
We do that a couple times a year, as a family. We go through clothes and other belongings to evaluate their usefulness. We sell things, give things to friends, take stuff to goodwill and toss some in the trash. There’s a time to cast away.
But, then Solomon says, there is “a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.”
And this is more what I want to talk about: keeping your loved ones close, embracing them.
Unfortunately, there are always tensions in our families. There are people we don’t get along with. We tolerate them, for the most part. We have to. It’s family. But, we hold grudges and make half-witted remarks under our breath.
But, the Christmas season is not the time for that. The Christmas season is a time to embrace each other, faults and all.
The relative you struggle with, bring them a special gift this year.
The neighbor you try not to talk to, bake them cookies.
The coworker you’d rather be fired, speak a kind word to build them up.
This is not a time to divide or cast people away. It’s a time to keep and to embrace.
And as a church family, this makes sense too. This is a time to come together for celebration. This is a time to keep brothers and sisters close. This is a time to reach out to families who have, for whatever reason, become distant from the church to love them and embrace them.
It’s why the Apostle Paul wrote,
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10, ESV)
This is a time for unity, a time to embrace one another, a time to bring those back in who have wandered off.
And finally, the Christmas season is a time of…
Peace and Love
Christmas is a time of peace, not war. It is a time of love, not hate.
We could talk about politics here. We could talk about race wars, religious wars, economic wars.
But, when I read peace this weak, I thought of all the chaos from the fires that are all over California.
Northern California burned a few months ago, destroying over 8,000 homes and taking dozens of lives. And now Southern California is on fire. When I checked the numbers on Friday, there were still 6 fires burning in So Cal. To date, no verifiable deaths were recorded, which is good. But, it was not possible to estimate the number of homes and structures that burned. And there was no end in sight.
Our world is not at peace. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote,
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:22, ESV)
The reality is, we are not in a time of peace. The creation isn’t at peace and people are not at peace. Paul goes on in Romans 8 to say that we groan inwardly just like the creation does as we await the time when Jesus returns to bring us to his perfect, eternal Kingdom.
But, that’s not a now thing. That’s a future thing. We live in a world that is at war, not peace. This is a world filled with hate, not love.
But, there is a season, a time for all things. There is a time for peace and love. The Apostle John recieved a vision of God’s eternal Kingdom. This is what he saw,
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3–5, ESV)
For everything there is a season. For this world, it is a season of war, hate, and chaos. But, Paul says we are to live like we are in the Kingdom of Heaven now. He writes,
We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:12, ESV)
We are called to live as if in God’s Kingdom now. So, if peace and love are part of God’s Kingdom, we are to live lives of peace and love now.
That means that when you face conflict, you don’t ask, ‘How can I win?”. No, it means that when you face conflict you ask, “How can I make peace?” That’s a totally different question.
And it means that when someone lashes out against you in anger or says hateful things about you or does hateful things to you, you don’t respond with revenge. To avenge the righteous is the Lord’s job. We are called to be a voice of love in the middle of an angry and hateful world.
And you might think that makes you a door mat, that if you always respond in peace and love, that people will walk all over you and take advantage of you.
And maybe they will, but I’d challenge you to read the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. The only people Jesus was ever hard on were the people who claimed to follow God, but lived lives of anger and hatred.
To everyone else, Jesus was loving. He was patient to the outsiders like the Samaritan woman. He was gentle with the sinners like the adulterous woman. He loved extortionists like Zacchaeus.
Was Jesus a doormat?
Well, he was crucified because of his persistent love, peace, and righteousness. So, in a sense, yes. People walked all over Jesus.
So, we need to ask the question, as we come to celebrate Christmas around people who are hard to love and people who sow discord instead of peace.
Am I willing to follow the example of Jesus?
Am I willing to set aside my stuff—my intellect, my perspectives, my preferences—in order to make peace with argumentative and frustrating people?
Am I willing to humble myself to love unlovable people?
This Christmas, I pray that we can be humble people who put aside our differences to love others and to be examples of Jesus to those in our families. I hope that we can receive healing from past hurts and that others in our families can find healing from pain.
My desire is that you would all enjoy times of laughing and even dancing as you share sweet times of fellowship with family and friends. And I pray that the love of God would be evident among us as we celebrate the greatest gift ever given to us, Jesus Christ.