We sing a lot about "joy" each December. Have you noticed? We'll offer "tidings of comfort and joy," and we'll join our voices on carols with titles like, "How Great Our Joy!" and "Joy to the World!" There's just one problem. We aren't joyful.
Oh, we sing the songs and sip the eggnog, and we wrap the presents and trim the tree. We even say, "Thank you," for Uncle Frank's fruitcake. But somehow the joy of the season remains that one gift we don't open. Why? We usually blame our condition on the commercialism or on all of the parties and Christmas programs that keep us busy or on those overcrowded shopping malls (I have a friend who calls them "mauls"). But the real reason our joy stays wrapped up? Our selfishness.
I have found that you don't have to go to the mall to pick up selfishness. Not at all. Just having a family is all I need. I recall when Cynthia and I began to have children; I thought two little Swindolls would be perfect. That's all we needed. You know, "Alpha and Omega" . . . ideal! Then our third came along . . . and not too many years later our fourth.
Now, you need to understand the kind of guy I am. I like my shoes spit-shined rather than stepped on and scuffed up. I like my clothes hanging neatly in the closet rather than drooled on and wrinkled. And I like milk in a glass on the table rather than out of the glass and spilled on the floor. I especially like a clean car with no fingerprints on the windows. So what did the Lord do to help broaden my horizons and assist me in seeing how selfish I am? Very simple: He gave Cynthia and me four busy kids who stepped on shoes, wrinkled clothes, spilled milk, and licked car windows. Today those four have multiplied to ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren!
You haven't lived until you've walked barefoot across the living room in the middle of the night and stomped down full force on a jack or on a couple of those little Lego landmines left over from Christmas morning. I'll tell you, you discover real quick just how selfish you are!
You see, this is not some deep theological subject we're thinking about. Being unselfish in attitude strikes at the very core of our being. It means we are willing to forgo our own comforts, our own preferences, our own schedules, and our own desires for another's benefit. And that brings us back to Christmas. Perhaps you never realized that it was Jesus's attitude of unselfishness that launched Him from the splendor of heaven all the way down to a humble manger in Bethlehem . . . and later to the cross of Calvary. Look at the Christmas story in simple terms that flowed from the pen of the apostle Paul:
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal's death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8 NLT)
Everything that was involved in Jesus's becoming human began with an attitude of submission . . . a willingness to cooperate with the Father's plan for salvation. Rather than lobbying for His right to remain in heaven and continuing to enjoy all the benefits of that exalted role as the second member of the Godhead, Jesus willingly said yes. He agreed to cooperate with a plan that would require His releasing ecstasy and accepting agony. In a state of absolute perfection and undiminished deity, the Son of God willingly came to earth. Leaving the angelic hosts who flooded His presence with adoring praise, He unselfishly accepted a role that would require His being misunderstood, abused, cursed, tortured, and then crucified.
He did not come to us grudgingly nursing a bitter spirit. He came free of all that. While it was certainly not a pleasurable experience, He accepted His incarnation among us and His dying for us willingly and unselfishly. And what ultimately happened? Read and rejoice!
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (2:9–11 NLT)
God supremely exalted Jesus, and He was welcomed back with open arms. Heaven's applause was the supreme reward for His earthly, unselfish sacrifice.
This Christmas, it will be our attitude that unwraps our joy—an attitude of unselfishness. My encouragement to you is that you not put it off until it is a little more convenient. Many will tell you that people will take advantage of you if you begin to live unselfishly or if you don't defend your rights and "get even." I offer the opposite counsel: God will honor your decision to demonstrate an attitude of humility. You will find that feelings of hate will be replaced with a relieving flood of peace and happiness. When we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord and begin to release our cares, our disappointments, and our heartaches to Him, we not only keep our equilibrium, we also keep our sense of humor. Joys multiply when we have Someone to bear our burdens.
Someday our voices will join the same angelic hosts that first proclaimed the newborn King, and together we will make great music! If we willingly humble ourselves as Jesus did, God will help us unwrap a joy that even the angels of heaven cannot experience.
Say, isn't it about time you opened your gift?