The Christmas season seems to be the time of year with the most emotions and widest range of feelings. Nostalgia is almost tangible, like it or not. Memories from childhood, pleasant or painful, cross our minds daily. As the year draws to a close, we look back on the days that were and the months we had. In our humanity, we naturally celebrate success and resent failures, however they may be defined.
Whether willing to admit it or not, many of us function in slow motion while the month of December whirls around us in double-time. The shopping list seems to grow bigger each year, even if the family does not. Visit Santa but say your prayers. Was the Grinch at the nativity or was baby Jesus in Whoville? Our calendars consist of activities which could fill up an eight-day week. We worry about too much screen time, the right amount of family time, and Is this headache actually the flu, this time? Post this. Share that. Do all the things, with all the people, and smile while you’re doing it!
If we stop for even a moment, we realize the Christmas holiday in America is almost overwhelming. But that’s just it. Perhaps unlike any other holiday during the year, the way in which we engage Christmas prevents us from being able to slow down. The expectations, the opportunities. The what ifs, the I have tos. A pace we set which creates unconscious proclivities and out-runs societal shame. The tiny voice in our heads that says, “I can’t not.” All for a good cause and all well-meaning. But the physical chaos, the emotional clutter, the mental fatigue, the spiritual roller-coaster – it moves in and takes over, takes up all the room in our hearts.
Joy to the world
Joy to the world
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing
Convicting lyrics. If I were honest with myself, if an angel of the Lord appeared to me – bringing me good news of great joy – I would visit Bethlehem, fashionably late with plans not to stay too long. Worried if I was wearing the right outfit and if I remembered to set my DVR for that bowl game I am probably missing.
Consider Luke 2. Think not only of the source of the proclamation but the substance. There is good news, joy, for all the people. Praise be to God the proclamation of salvation is not only for the kids who get gold stars on their behavior charts (as we heard at Fellowship). Our hearts cry out to God with gratitude for His generous plan that any who confess with their hearts and believe with their mouths will be saved. This joy of Jesus is not for a specific ethnicity, religious elite, or political party. Neither salvation from nor a relationship with Jesus is based on if this year’s good deeds outweighed your bad. There is no Naughty or Nice List here. I, for one, have no business being saved. The depth of depravity of which I have achieved and of which I am capable, should keep me from ever even knowing a whisper of God’s grand joy. Yet because of the Father’s eternal generosity my heart can sing.
Soften your heart for a personal embrace of God’s joy this Christmas. Whether this is an embrace by way of salvation, or you have been a Christian “your whole life.” Each and every Advent must include the humility to recognize who you are and who God is. Jesus does not give the perfect gift. Jesus is the perfect gift. God’s joy manifested in His Son as a baby. His joy for all the people, but most importantly, for you. God’s gift of joy is not meant to be secondary, in the pile, under the tree, with all the others. His joy is not the Christmas feels you get from that tear-jerking commercial or the perfect peppermint latte. His joy blesses the heart, brings peace, and satisfies the soul. Saint Athanasius would write it this way in 319 AD, “It was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us. So that He made haste to help us and to appear among us.”
This Christmas, with the days we have left, let us be about the work of diminishing distractions. Let us commit to removing the kings in our hearts which rival the arrival of the newborn King.
The truth about Christmas is that there is one true and real purpose – and that is to receive our King. Jesus, born in a cowshed of a virgin mother. The lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Yet this particular lyric, and those angels on that specific night, show us that it is only the heart which prepares Him room which will truly sing. The only real way to find Bethlehem in the midst of bedlam is to recognize real joy is not found under the tree, but in the manger.