Her eyes sparkled, bright with excitement as she showed off the puppy that “Santa had to drop off early before Christmas.” Her joy was infectious, filling the hearts of a dozen of us standing around. What a contrast with another man with whom I spoke earlier that day who was all cynicism and sadness. 2018 was not a great year for him. In our conversation he expressed the desire to make a quick jump forward, straight into January.
How does this Monday morning find you? Are you prepared to find joy or will you let the ubiquitous bad news of life weigh you down?
Before you explain your circumstances, I want to remind you that JOY is different from happiness. Happiness comes and goes like sunshine. We cannot control what happens around us, sometimes even to us. Bad and sad things are ‘just life.’ Joy, by contrast, is an evidence of a heart that is trusting God, that is being infused with the life of the Spirit each day. It is possible to know the joy of the Lord in the middle of some of the worst situations.
How? Let me make some practical suggestions for living with joy.
Make people your priority!
Don’t isolate when you’re sad. The comfort of your couch and a blanket, with some mind-numbing TV will be tempting when your heart aches. Get up and get out. Talk to people, really engage with them. Give another your full attention. If you at a gathering, or at the dinner table, or sitting with a friend; don’t hurry or just try to ‘get the program’ completed. Enjoy the opportunity to be with friends and family. If you’re hosting a dinner or a party, don’t make it about perfect preparations of food and décor. Those things will quickly fade into oblivion, but an evening of meaningful conversation creates a lasting memory.
Remember to include worship!
Believe me, if you will set aside 20 minutes each day between now and Christmas Day, to meditate, to pray, and to read the stories of Jesus’ nativity from Matthew and Luke; the Spirit will meet you! Tell your family you will be going to church on Christmas Eve. Arrive early and sit with a listening heart, not one wondering, “when will this be over?” “O come, let us adore Him… Christ, the Lord!” Will you worship at the altar of consumerism with far more fervency than you worship the Lord Jesus? This imbalance in the use of our time and money reveals the identity of our true god. Keeping Christ in Christmas isn’t just about putting up a crèche on the lawn at City Hall. It’s about building an altar in our heart and honoring the One whose life is the cause for the celebration.
Give yourself away!
In Acts 20:35 (The Message) says, “I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You’ll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, ‘You’re far happier giving than getting.’ ” Give forgiveness. Give love. Give time. Give grace. Give away your expectations and receive what these days bring your way. Forget yourself. The paradox of joy is that it is never found in making self the center. Jesus says, “if you lose your life, you’ll find it.” Sound like a riddle? It’s not. It is a life principle.
Instead of asking, “How could this be?” when you read about virgin being with Child, God becoming flesh, invite the mystery of it all to whisper to your soul a new message about the depth of God’s love. Let the sophisticates pretend to be bored by the holiday. Choose to be child-like (not childish!) in your wonder. I am not urging mere sentimentality. I am suggesting that we let go of our sophistication, our cynicism, our intense focus on now to hear God’s invitation to JOY.
You can come to New Year’s Day with a renewed heart! Sure, you may be tired in body from staying up too late, going here and there, but you will have received Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And, He brings life.
Here’s a word from the Word that sums up the story that we are celebrating this Advent – “The Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. … We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us—one gracious blessing after another.” (John 1:14, 16, NLT)
Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
(Pray this carol as you listen)
Thou didst leave Thy throne
And Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home,
There was found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.
Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott | Timothy Richard Matthews Public Domain