In some seasons, ‘last year’ feels more like a thousand years ago. Maybe that’s just me? At least for our family, there was a season like that, and we found ourselves in a whole new place in life than where we were the Christmas before.
That year, my husband’s position on our church staff was abruptly eliminated, and we lost both his job and our decades-long church home in one fell swoop.
That year, my son broke his leg badly and we journeyed through months of pain, stress, fear, pauses in our routines, and temporary new plans.
That year, we were no longer in a raging pandemic (but life was a new kind of normal) and all four of my kids were back fully in regular school and activities.
That year, the weight I gave to some things seemed to shift. My priorities changed.
My halls weren’t fully decked. The bins of decor sat and waited because of life happening all around them. My kids had projects to do, programs to attend, and performances to plow through. My list was long too — gifts to wrap, cookies to bake, cards to mail, traditions to fulfill. . .
But we were almost there, and maybe along the way, we forgot that Advent isn’t just a season of passive waiting. Advent is a season of preparation. Our hearts, our homes, our very selves. And now, as we sit nearly on top of Christmas itself, we begin to look both behind and ahead at what we’ve done, what we’ve left undone, and what we’ve yet to come to.
Every year, just before Christmas, I start to panic a little bit. I see how quickly my favorite season flew by, and I think about how quickly the years have flown by, and then I wonder if I’m doing all that I can to soak it up, and then I eventually melt into a puddle of feelings — joy among the least of them.
In that difficult year, I wrote something that stuck with me:
‘What I want to tell you today, mere days before Christmas morning, is that both light and dark, wonderful and hard, joy and difficulty, are okay to feel — maybe especially at Christmas.’
I was reminded that feeling not okay, is okay. And it still is.
But now, I feel a little tug towards joy.
Me. A self-proclaimed Eeyore, pulled toward joy.
I laugh, but here we are. I find myself lingering and laughing longer with my husband. Sharing stories with my kids about Christmases when they were babies and beaming at the memories. Smiling at every gift I wrap as I picture the recipient opening it. Getting teary at every holiday movie I watch. (The girl gets the promotion! The guy finds the secret gingerbread family recipe in time for the contest! They fall in love! I can’t help myself.). Letting the tears of pain and relief fall as I sit with my family in the pews at a new church. Giggling as I move our elf and Shepherd on the Search each night (unless I forget, and then still giggling but also scrambling before the kids get home from school).
My tasks are still there, both the holiday extras and the daily grind varieties. But there’s a flicker in my heart not terribly unlike that of the Grinch. Remember that scene, where his heart grows three sizes? I have those Grinch-heart moments every so often, and they feel like a gift. That God would design us so that our hearts could grow to hold more love, more joy, more peace. . . what a gift.
We are welcome to feel difficulty and sadness at Christmastime. We are also welcome to feel joy.
We see Jesus feeling the other emotions — anger, sadness, grief, burden. I am convinced though, that Jesus had an incredible and indescribable spirit of joy. People were drawn to Him, constantly and consistently. I must think that His gentleness and His joy were magnetic. He hung out with the fun crowd and had dear friends. He was invited to parties. He and His friends went to weddings together!
Maybe we need to talk more about the joy of Jesus and dive deep into Scripture and history, but for today it’s enough for me to imagine with certainty: Jesus knew joy because Jesus knew God.
. . . for the joy of the Lord is your strength, says Nehemiah 8:10.
We can lean on the strength of this joy. His joy. We don’t have to live at a frenetic pace; we can let God’s peace draw us in. We can suggest joy take a front seat for once, and we can be amazed at the glimmers of hope we feel. We can lean into the joyfulness of the season, even if everything around us is hard. Doing so just might be a gift He’s waiting for us to open.
Jesus, God with us, offers a spirit of joy that can carry us through long after the holidays. There’s hope. There’s joy. Christmas is coming, friends. May your heart be light. And may you have a very merry Christmas.