The Joy of the Lord

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It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn't been enough money to buy me the rifle that I'd wanted for Christmas.

We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible.

After supper was over, I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn't in much of a mood to read Scriptures.

But Pa didn't get the Bible, instead he bundled up again and went outside. I couldn't figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn't worry about it long though, I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.

Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard.

"Come on, Matt," he said. "Bundle up good, it's cold out tonight."

I was really upset then.  Not only wasn't I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see.

We'd already done all the chores, and I couldn't think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew Pa was not very patient at one dragging one's feet when he'd told them to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my cap, coat, and mittens.

Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn't know what.

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn't going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell.

We never hitched up this sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me.

I wasn't happy.

When I was on the sled, Pa pulled it around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed.

"I think we'll put on the high sideboards," he said. "Here, help me."

The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high sideboards on.

After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood -- the wood I'd spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all Fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing?

Finally I said something. "Pa," I asked, "what are you doing?"

"You been by the Widow Jensen's lately?" he asked. The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I'd been by, but so what?

"Yeah," I said, "Why?"

"I rode by just today," Pa said. "Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They're out of wood, Matt."

That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood.

I followed him.

We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading, then we went to the smoke house and Pa took down a big ham and a side of bacon.

He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand.

"What's in the little sack?" I asked.

"Shoes. They're out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn't be Christmas without a little candy."

We rode the two miles to the Widow Jensen's pretty much in silence.

I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn't have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it.

We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn't have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy?

Really…. why was he doing any of this? The Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us; it shouldn't have been our concern.

We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible. Then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, "Who is it?"

"Lucas Miles, Ma'am, and my son, Matt. Could we come in for a bit?"

The Widow Jensen opened the door to let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all.

The Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.

"We brought you a few things, Ma'am," Pa said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table.

Then Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children -- sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last.

I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks.
She looked up at Pa like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn't come out.

"We brought a load of wood, too, Ma'am," Pa said. He turned to me and said, "Matt, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let's get that fire up to size and heat this place up."

I wasn't the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat, and as much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too.

In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn't speak.

My heart swelled within me and a joy that I'd never known before filled my soul.

I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference. I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people.

I soon had the fire blazing and everyone's spirits soared.

The kids started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of candy and the Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn't crossed her face for a long time.

She finally turned to us. "God bless you," she said. "I know the Lord has sent you. The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us."

In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again.

I'd never thought of Pa in those exact terms before, but after the Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true.

I was sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Ma and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.

Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.

Tears were running down the Widow Jensen's face again when we stood up to leave.
Pa took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn't want us to go.

I could see that they missed their Pa, and I was glad that I still had mine.

At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said, "The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We'll be by to get you about eleven. It'll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn't been little for quite a spell."

I was the youngest. My two brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved away. Widow Jensen nodded and said, "Thank you, Brother Miles. I don't have to say, 'May the Lord bless you,' I know for certain that He will."

Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I didn't even notice the cold.

When we had gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, "Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn't have quite enough.

Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your ma and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that.

But on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand."

I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it. Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities.  Pa had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on the Widow Jensen's face and the radiant smiles of her three children.

For the rest of my life, whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered. And remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside Pa that night.
Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life.

Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities.

But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving.

This was another one of those stories I found months ago.  Up until recently, I couldn’t read the story without tears rolling down my face.

It is a story that can resonate with anyone.  

Any of us, could put ourselves into any of their shoes…  Perhaps a memory of being like the young man who was disappointed with not getting what he wanted for Christmas.

Or perhaps we can relate to the Dad who finally has been given enough money to spend on whatever he wants for his family, and yet, the needs of so many others are weighing on his heart.  Perhaps so much so, that it doesn’t feel right to live in abundance when others are barely making it.

Perhaps you can relate to the Mother who saw her husband come home with shoes and candy, and you bubbled up with sweet joy and peace that your man, was a man, who always put the real needs of others first.

Perhaps you’re this wife who encourages her husband that he is doing the most honorable thing, and that you are proud of him for the way he is teaching their son what truly matters in this temporary world.

Perhaps you can relate to the widow.  You have been quietly struggling to care of the needs of your children, but, there is just nothing left.  You are the bottom of the barrel and yet you keep going to that barrel over and over again looking for something you know is not there… you in fact realize, you need a miracle.

Perhaps like this widow you have spent hours on your knees praying for mercy, praying for your next meal.  All you desire is to see your children satisfied from hunger, and warm in their own beds.

Perhaps you, like this widow, have experienced the unexpected knock on your door.  The unexpected gift now in your hands.  Like this widow you can remember being speechless, with tears rolling down your face.

Or perhaps it was you who was the angel.  Perhaps you can remember the joy of seeing others finally receive what they really need.

Like this father and son that joy made you feel warm all over.  It was a life changing moment, there has never been a day so impactful in your entire life.

Perhaps you have also learned the lesson, that the real joy of Christmas is the giving, and not the receiving.

When I look into our text in Luke 2, I see another story, a story of how the God of the universe did not pass by the need.

He sees us, for the helpless people we are.  A people struggling in our sin and falling short of the glory of God.

He turned our way, and sent us His most prized possession, his own Son, as a gift, a gift greater than all other gifts in the entire universe.

A gift of a greater cost than we can possibly imagine, although it is good for us to try to contemplate it.

But I find it awesome, that he sent his angels to tell others about the gift.  To go and see this truly amazing thing that is happening.  A gift so special, that it is like the angels cannot keep from singing about it.

Like they are filled with so much joy knowing exactly what this will mean to mankind, and how it will change their lives forever.

I can almost imagine God’s son getting ready to come to earth, God the father puts his hand on his son’s shoulder, and says, “Are you ready son?”

As Christ himself nods and says “let’s do this,” all heaven stands still in quiet awe.

Imagine God looking out to the angels and saying, “Who would like to go and share our joy with the world?”

Every angel raises their hand for the opportunity to sing songs on earth the day, Christ is born.

I know if I was an angel in heaven I would plea for the opportunity to be the one to go because my joy would be so great.  

“I would be so honored my God, if you would pick me… I’ve been practicing for 2000 years now!”

The day comes, and angels sing, and to this day, there is an eternal song going on in heaven every time another soul receives the gift sent to the world.

Church this Christmas season can be an awesome time for so many.  Most people who celebrate Christmas can have a sense of what joy is, every time they give a gift, no matter how small.

And yet, I read an article recently called, “We Wish You a Godless Xmas: What's Secular, Godless About Christmas Holidays?” by Austin Cline

Under a section he entitled Wrapping and Giving Presents he writes:

“If people do anything during the Christmas holidays, they probably end up wrapping and giving gifts. Some may give religious gifts and/or use religious wrapping paper, but there is no need to do so. Most people give secular gifts and use non-religious wrapping. There's nothing especially Christian or religious about exchanging gifts on Christmas.

If you want to exchange gifts with others on Christmas, you can do so without any references to religion or Christianity.”

He’s right.  You do not have to be Christian in order to give gifts.

The problem with the world’s philosophy, is that so many people have only spent the time reflecting on what is the temporary gift, that they failed to remember the eternal.

For example, anyone could listen to the story of the widow and her children and be inspired by the love shown to her by the father and Son.  It may inspire them to give gifts as well, and yet they will totally miss the real joy, the everlasting joy, that can never be taken away.

That joy… is the joy… of not being the giver of the gift, but the eternal joy... of having been given THE gift... that truly matters.

Let me show you this in another passage in Luke.  Flip to Luke 10.

10 “Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. 2 And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.

3 Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’

6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. 8 Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you;

And verse 9 “GIVE”

9 and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Skip down to verse 17

17 The seventy returned with JOY, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”

They are skipping back to Jesus!
Lord this was awesome… I want to tell you about what happened.  We loved on people, and we removed demons from them in the power of your name!  They had smiles on their faces, they were so thankful, and it was awesome!!

18 “And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.

20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

Wow… Powerful perspective… Humbling…

Listen friend, God is still giving us good gifts, and He is still sending us out to share those gifts, like He sent those 70 other disciples, and it will give you joy, but, the warning is still true for us as well.

Christ is reminding them, as well as us, to not get so caught up with the giving of gifts which “I” gave you, for without him, we would have nothing to offer anyone…  Don’t get so caught up in the giving that you lose your way.

Christ describes the day Satan fell like lightning.

He was given everything, power, position, the blessing of leading worship even! and yet he fell.  He fell because he focused on what HE gave to others rather than on the one who gave them to him.

Church, have your joy in doing what God has sent you out to do.  That is a good thing!!  

Have joy in giving the gifts He gave you to give others... but only, as a humble reflection, of what He did for you.

We must never get so carried away with our Christmas celebrations, with our gifts to the world, that we forget about verse 20… That we forget to give God all the glory for adding our names in the eternal book of life.

That is where our true joy needs to be in.  Put your Christmas joy in what is eternal.

Christmas needs to be a time when Christ comes first, when we say thank you... Father... for Giving... to even one like me.

Let’s pray