May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)
It’s Christmas Eve. Time to do your last minute preparations, time to cherish family and friends, and also time to reflect on the coming birth of the Son of God – the Saviour of the world. Christmas is indeed a time of deep joy and gratitude, however, for many people it can also be a time of great sadness and loss.
For the family who has recently lost a love one, I send my condolences. To the individual who has just lost their job, I send my sincerest regrets. To the person who will be gathering with their family this Christmas knowing that they await conflicts which lie just below the surface, you are not alone.
There is this unfortunate reality among Christians that we always need to be happy and we always need to have a smile on our face, however, this is simply not the case! This Christmas people will be struggling with a variety of things as they enter the church for the service this evening. Some of them will be wondering how they will be able to put food on the table tomorrow. Some of my brothers and sisters from other countries will be wondering where the Prince of Peace is in the midst of war and violence. Some of my brothers and sisters have recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness or suffered a stroke and wonder how Christmas will be the same when their loved one is in the hospital not to mention the medical bills are piling high.
I’m not saying all of this to be a downer. Not at all. I am fortunate that today I am with my family, I have survived a massive Canadian ice storm, and tomorrow there will be a lovely spread of turkey on the table. I’m thankful that I will go to church tonight and that I live in a country where I don’t need to fear persecution for that. At the same time, I am deeply aware that this is not the reality for all Canadians or all Christians on this sacred and holy day.
Yet that doesn’t make it any less sacred and holy. The Son of God came so that we might have life and have it abundantly! He came not to judge, but to save us! This Christmas, whatever you are going through, know that Jesus cares and that on Him you can place all your burdens! Come to Him. He understands. Christ went through a lot. He suffered. There is no temptation which we go through which He also didn’t experience. Know that this Christmas if you are struggling with alcoholism, depression, anxiety, or anything else that Christ walks with you. He does not judge. He is your loving Heavenly Parent who wants to give you the greatest gift of all – peace and joy.
Here’s another thing: joy and happiness although there may be some similarities are not the same thing! I was thinking about this last Sunday when I was at church and we sang the famous and familiar Christmas song “How Great Our Joy”. Many of us know that the chorus goes “How great my joy (loudly), great my joy (in hushed anticipation). Jesus is born in Heaven on high (loudly), Jesus is born in Heaven on high (in hushed anticipation).”
I had never thought about the musical dynamics before until that day. Joy can sometimes be proclaimed loudly as if we are on the mountaintop. Joy can also be said in hushed anticipation, even when we are in the valley. There was a lot of anticipation that day, and there is a lot of anticipation today. Perhaps Christ wants to bring you a special gift this Christmas – healing, a compassionate friend, someone who can lend a listening ear, or comfort. Joy CAN permeate through us even in the darkest seasons of our lives. Joy is not a feeling. Happiness is a feeling and feelings are fleeting. One minute we are happy, the next we are not. But joy is so deeply rooted in us that it wells up even amidst grief, pain, and loss.
This Christmas let’s be thankful for the greatest gift of joy that came to us on this earth. Let’s join the Heavenly hosts of angels and shepherds and sing with them: “How great is my joy (loudly), great is my joy (in hushed anticipation). Joy, joy, joy (loudly). Joy, joy, joy (in hushed anticipation). Jesus is born in Heaven on High (loudly). Jesus is born in Heaven on High! (in hushed anticipation)”
Never heard the song How Great Our Joy before? Check out this YouTube rendition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbY6yb-UaNc