“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
~ Henri J.M. Nouwen
The Christmas season is upon us and once again it is hard to believe how fast the year has gone by. The hustle and bustle of the season can leave us with a variety of emotions ranging from excitement to complete exhaustion.
As a young girl I loved to watch the Christmas specials every year. Among the cherished favourites was A Charlie Brown’s Christmas, which my siblings and I watched with great pleasure as a special and cherished family tradition. Christmas was always a happy time for me growing up. I came from a strong, Christian family who loved each other dearly and put Christ at the center of Christmas. Christmas and life in general were all that it should be in my corner of the world and I was very unfamiliar with anything different. Naively I assumed that most families had the same experience as I did. With this is mind, it is understandable how I could not identify with people who did not have the joy of the season.
I recall being very confused when Charlie Brown confides in Lucy that he is struggling with feelings of sadness over the holidays, yet to his dismay he can’t quite pinpoint the reason. As a child that seemed inconceivable to me that anyone, especially a child could be sad at Christmas. Fortunately for Charlie Brown he made it through the holidays. With the support of friends and getting engaged in holiday traditions such as being involved in a Christmas play; he eventually finds peace and joy over the holidays. Needless to say though, it was definitely a painful process for him.
As I got older, it made so much sense to me. I came to realize that many people in life are very much like Charlie Brown. He was not as exceptional as I had once imagined. The holidays lose their magic as you age and others too had difficulty with the holiday season. For some depression and sadness linger over the holidays like a heavy cloak. They hear songs like It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year over the loud speaker and all they want to do is cry. For them this time of year is anything but wonderful and certainly not the “happiest season of all,” as the song states. Many people have deep sorrow and sadness in their lives throughout the year and the holidays can only accentuate that further in many cases. Many have lost loved ones and their painful absence at a family get-together can be almost unbearable. Where some may hope the Christmas season like magic can make all sadness disappear, this is realistically not the case.
In my work as a clinical social worker at the Salvation Army I heard many sad stories of lives torn apart from substance abuse, poverty, great loss, and family dysfunction. It was especially difficult at Christmas for many. With all their other problems, these people were often living below the poverty line, so purchasing gifts was extremely challenging. This is where the joy of giving rather than receiving really took action. The Salvation Army provides food baskets and toys for needy families year after year and it was so exciting to be a part of that rewarding process. As I would hand out bags of toys to thankful parents it was extremely touching to see the gratitude and relief on their faces. They knew that their Christmas would be a bit brighter due a little help from a caring community.
The carol Joy to the World understandably comes to mind when pondering this season. The lyrics are “Joy to the world. The Lord is come. Let Heaven and nature sing. Let every heart prepare him room.” The last line really hits home. The concept of “let every heart prepare Him room” is very thought provoking. This speaks of the need and desire we all have to experience true joy, yet we need to make room for the One who is the "true joy giver."
Individually the choice is ours. I was taught in Sunday school that to have true joy (J-O-Y), it meant to have Jesus first (J) others next (O) and yourself last. (Y) This does seem like a winning formula, yet many have not discovered this yet. Each person needs to prepare Christ room in his or her heart, yet many have not taken that important step. Hearts can be so full of other desires, dreams, and pursuits that people miss the true reason they were created.
We were created to love God and put Him first. It says in God’s word Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33) The “all these things” that this verse is speaking of includes the joy that we all are seeking. When we have our priorities straight and Christ is at the center of our lives, He helps us each day to discover the joy we desire.
We were never promised a perfect life as Christ followers, but we were also never meant to live this life on our own. In each one of us there is a deep void that longs to be filled to make us whole, and healthy individuals. Too many people are living life on autopilot. Their lives have become routine, perhaps comfortable, yet sadly no passion remains. Too often people seek to fill that void with fleeting whims and fancies and their joy dissipates like a puff of smoke. Empty and frustrated, they wonder when their lives will change. The Bible says that Christ came as a baby at Christmas to lead us to a life that is abundant and full, not stressful, and meaningless.
Are there any Charlie Brown’s out there? Do you feel that there is joy everywhere else but in your corner of the world? Don’t despair. Happiness is a choice and with God by our sides, the burdens we carry become more bearable. This Christmas can be a real turning point for all of us if we allow it. As we choose to let Christ’s joy penetrate our lives, it spills out to others and changes us for the better.
Have you “prepared Him room” in your heart or perhaps you need to “prepare Him more room” in your heart? These are questions only you can answer. Allowing Christ into your life and heart is the greatest Christmas gift you can give yourself. Preparing room for Him in your heart will put you on the path to the most joy filled and purposeful life you have ever known. The gift is just waiting for you! Won’t you open and receive it this Christmas?
~ Until next time,
Nehemiah 8:10 ~ Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
Little Lesson Learned: A relationship with Christ is the best gift you could give yourself this holiday season. If you have never received this gift, won’t you consider it?
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