Few seasons trigger the memories that Christmas does. Think back to your childhood Christmases. I recall my dad taking 8-mm movies every Christmas morning. We would have to wait in the hall until the bright home movie lights turned on. Only then did we make our pajama-clad entry into the living room to see the pile of presents under the tree. I remember the Christmas Eve Candlelight services at church and we would get a box of hard candy from the pastor. I remember putting out Christmas cookies and milk for Santa and listening for the reindeer on the roof. I remember singing Christmas carols with my grandmother.
But I also remember the feeling of sadness the year my father died. Somehow it just didn’t seem right to be happy without my dad sitting in his lazy boy chair by the Christmas tree. Or the Christmas after my mom died and I was the oldest sibling. We still had Christmas at her house but it just didn’t have the same spirit without her.
The angels may sing “Joy to the Word,” but they might as well have been singing to another planet for all the good it feels for some this Christmas. Christmas isn’t all lights and smiles and sugar plum fairies. Sometimes we are robbed of joy.
It’s not very often that I feel the freedom or the confidence to make a sweeping statement, but I think I can make this one: every single person would rather by happy than sad at Christmas. I might even go a step further and say that most of us prefer to be around those who are joyful at Christmas.
Let’s talk about Christmas joy. The Greek word for joy (chara) is used some 70 times in the New Testament, always to signify a feeling of happiness that is based on spiritual realities. Happiness is elusive. It comes when outward conditions are favorable, but joy goes much deeper. Happiness is momentary but joy is deep. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well in the world because all is well with God.
It may sound strange, but joy is often related to suffering. To say that joy and suffering go together is like saying that matches and gasoline go together (1 Peter 4:13). Yet, joy is sometimes greatest when circumstances are the most painful and severe. Joy is constant even in difficulties.
Joni Eareckson Tada, a woman who knows something about suffering, since she was paralyzed in a diving accident in her youth, said, “With profound potential for good, suffering can also be a destroyer. Suffering can pull families together, uniting them through hardship, or it can rip them apart in selfishness and bitterness. Suffering can file all the rough edges off your character, or it can further harden you. It all depends on us. On how we respond.”
One of the hallmarks of Christian joy is that it can be experienced in the midst of immense of sorrow and loss.
We find a Christmas story of joy in the life of Mary. Mary found herself in a significant predicament. What looks to us like the highest of honors could well have looked to her like the making of a scandal. What would she do? What would she tell Joseph and her family? What would her future hold? We can imagine there were many emotions swirling around Mary, including fear and anxiety. Her joy may well have been dampened, if not quenched. What did she do that we can do? We discover four ways to find Christmas joy.
(You can follow along in this story by reading Luke 1:39-55.)
1 – Invite others to be with you (Luke 1:39-45). Mary sought out someone who could share this time with her. Someone who understood her heart. She went to be with her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant (at an advanced age) with the child who would be John the Baptist. They encouraged and supported each other. In fact, during her time with Elizabeth Mary gave one of the most beautiful expressions of joy and praise in all Scripture. Mary found joy with a spiritual partner. Pray that the Lord will give you someone to walk with and share joy with. Who needs you to give them the gift of joy?
2 – Remember what God has done for you (Luke 1:46-49). Mary gave a wonderful praise of God. She began by think all the great things God had done for her. God had saved Mary (v. 47) and chose her to be the mother of the Messiah (v. 48). If you have been saved, you have a lot to be joyful about. Joy comes when you remember all the other people who have come to know Jesus because of your influence. God wants to use you to change someone’s forever.
3 – Focus on what God can do for you (Luke 1:50-53). God is all-powerful. He can do anything. Mary saw that the Lord can turn everything upside down. He can cast down the mighty and exalt the humble. Nobodies are made somebodies, hungry are filled and the rich end up being poor. Whatever difficulty we face can be met with confidence and courage because God is on our side.
4 – Notice what God has done for others (Luke 1:54-55). God had done some mighty works for His people. He kept His promises. He showed them mercy. As we look at what God does for others, let us be joyful that He can do it for us.
If you have lost your Christmas joy, it’s right where you left it – in the presence of Jesus. When the embryonic Jesus came into the room, John the Baptist leaped for joy in his mother’s womb. You will find joy in Jesus.
In the children’s Christmas special, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the Grinch thought he could kill the joy in Whoville by taking all the presents. But rather than being sad or angry, the city sang with joy. This unexpected joy is what affected the Grinch’s heart. If someone broke in your house and stole all the Christmas gifts not to mention the decorations and Christmas ham, I think most of us would have a pretty miserable Christmas. Very few of us would get up and see the empty house and walk outside and start singing the praises of God. Let me correct that… none of us would do that. We would be in shock. How could this happen? Then we’d call the police and investigate if any clues were left and how they got in and try to determine what all was missing. But we wouldn’t immediately praise God. However, I believe that those of us who are truly seeking to follow Jesus might eventually get around to it. We might thank God that no one was hurt. We might even pray for those who stole our Christmas.
I hope you have a joyful Christmas.