For many folks, the days before Christmas can be stressful, but still exciting and merry. For some of us, against the backdrop of our chaotic world, the confounding gift choices, commercials with warm family gatherings, and chords of Joy to the World may actually prompt us to feel inadequate, sad or lonely. I’m not talking about deep clinical depression here; more like a thin veil of grey that keeps us from being present. In the midst of troubling times, putting on a happy face becomes a challenge. How do we change?
Maybe we don’t. There are fellow human beings who are truly jolly at this time of year. God blesses us all with their gift. The world needs their revelry, gladness, and sparkle, especially now. But “joy to the world” isn’t just about glad tidings . Bible verses mention “joy and gladness” side by side: they are related, but they’re not the same.
I love how Theologian Henri Nouwen (who struggled with sorrow) spoke of this:
“Joy is not the same as happiness. We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us. We are inclined to think that when we are sad we cannot be glad, but in the life of a God-centered person, sorrow and joy can exist together… Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”
So instead of fighting the sorrows, or letting them overwhelm me, I have asked them to sit by my side to teach me. This verse came as a gift yesterday: “These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” John 15:11-12.
As I look to truly celebrate His birth, it hit me that Christ said this on the eve of his death. He was living in sorrow, yet speaking of joy. That joy is God’s love, and that love is profoundly centering and present. It doesn’t have to be merry. Now I truly enjoy the Christmas revelry as an example of others love, and it prompts me to do something loving – even merry – in my own way. The sadness now keeps me present, in His presence, and it is a most joyous gift.