Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When the Holidays Aren't Happy

Contrary to our beloved "Christmas" songs (most of which talk more of being in a winter climate than they do of Christ's birth) the holidays are not always happy. Ask Clark W. Griswold from the movie Christmas Vacation. He wanted to have the hap-hap-happiest, fun-filled family Christmas of all, but in reality it was a nightmare as nothing went as planned.

The first Christmas, while full of joy (Luke 2:10), was far from "happy". Think about it...Mary rode a donkey (or that's what historians think) around 70-100 miles to Bethlehem to pay taxes while she was probably in the later stages of her pregnancy. Just thinking about that makes me hurt! Then Mary and Joseph couldn't find any room in an inn to stay at in Bethlehem. When Mary delivered Jesus they had to put him in an animal feeding trough.  It doesn't sound like a "Holly Jolly Christmas" to me!

Yet, we've equated Christmas to joy and joy to happiness and happiness to ease.  That's not the message Jesus came to give.  He came to tell us that the way that leads to life is hard and few will find it (Matthew 7:14). And He didn't only tell us, he showed us a life of suffering and said that if we are His followers we will suffer too (Philippians 1:29, 1 Peter 2:21). Jesus came that our joy might be full (John 15:11): the joy of abiding in Him, trusting Him, and bearing fruit for God's glory, not the joy of gingerbread cookies and twinkling lights.
"It is an insult to use the word happiness in connection with Jesus Christ. The joy of  Jesus was the absolute self-surrender and self-sacrifice of Himself to His Father, the joy of doing what the Father sent him to do." Oswald Chambers
Photo by my talented husband
Maybe this is your first Christmas alone after 50 years of marriage, or maybe you are thousands of miles away from family in 100 degree weather, or maybe like me, you hurt so bad you don't know if you'll be able to get out of bed to open presents this Christmas. Even so, you can still have joy because of Christ. Easy to say, but not so easy to conjure up, is it? If you're feeling overwhelmed or down about your physical or emotional burdens this holiday season, as I often am, here are some tips to help keep our focus on Jesus.

1. Stop listening to Michael Buble's "White Christmas" (I admit I love that guy's music too!) when you are feeling down. Rather listen to something that points to Truth like Keith and Kristyn Getty's new Christmas album Joy

2. Stop trying to out-bake Martha Stewart and pick up some chocolate dipped pretzels at the grocery store. It's food and it will be consumed, whether it's store-bought or homemade, if your family is anything like mine!

3. Stop looking at your Christmas picture cards and wishing you had a husband or 5 kids or looked like your best friend. Put your focus on Christ: the one who fulfills all your needs (Philippians 4:19).

4. Stop comparing yourself to your friend on Facebook who is taking their kids to every fun Christmas activity imaginable. Instead curl up in bed with them and read a book like The Crippled Lamb. Teaching them that God has a special plan for us is much more valuable than going to look at the best Christmas lights in town.

5. Stop running around like a crazy person shopping for material gifts that will fade away. Spend more time than you shop thinking about the miracle of Christmas: that God came to Earth in the flesh to redeem His people!

6. Say No to Christmas gatherings if you have to. In the scope of eternity, skipping  get-togethers because you have a chronic illness doesn't matter. Acting depressed or putting your "joy" in family and celebrations does.

7. Don't waste your time watching a "Christmas" movie every day on ABC Family's 25 days of Christmas. Instead read THE Christmas story every day leading up to Christmas (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2) or a great Advent devotional like this one.

8. Don't look back at past holiday pictures and wish you could relive those days (Ecclesiates 7:10). God is in control and He planned this Christmas season with it's heartaches and pains long before you were born (Romans 8:28, Psalm 139:16). Trust Him.

9. Don't worry that you might not be here next Christmas or that you won't be able to do what you did this year because of your failing health (Matthew 6:34, James 4:13-14). Focus on making much of Christ this Christmas: none of us are promised tomorrow, even the healthiest person you know.

10. Don't worry that your house isn't spic 'n span clean for your holiday guests. A little dirt never killed anyone. Spend more time preparing your heart and mind for good conversations to engage with your guests about Christmas and the gospel of Jesus.

As our focus shifts from holiday going and doing to the person and plan of Christmas, we will find joy even if we aren't happy.

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