Something terrible happens every year on Dec. 26. The Christmas feast is now leftovers. There are no more packages wrapped in fancy paper with your name on them. Radio stations suddenly stop playing Christmas carols. Stores clean their shelves and in place of glittering holiday merchandise are signs marked “Clearance.” The magic is gone. It’s like the world suddenly whisked away wonder, joy and peace. How depressing!
Every Sunday in December, churches everywhere focus on the Advent themes of hope, joy, peace and love. Joy to the World! Peace on earth, good will to all! Even Santa Claus has to take a back seat to all this divine celebration. But the spirit of Christmas doesn’t have to end Dec. 26.
A very famous writer once said, “Rejoice! Again, I say, rejoice!” But many of us who look at the calendar with a new year looming ask ourselves, “why?” How can we rejoice, with all that we’re going through right now? It seems everyone is going through some kind of suffering, whether it’s the flu, struggling to pay the bills, or finding enough time in our schedules to simply breathe. But is joy something we’re able to just conjure up within ourselves? What’s the difference between joy and happiness?
Happiness is a contentment, having everything you need, getting everything you want (but not wanting so much that you’re miserably bored). Joy is different. Joy is an emotion of the heart that can come only through a close relationship with Jesus Christ. True, lasting joy comes with a clear conscience; it’s a lot easier to feel joy if your heart doesn’t condemn you. If you know Jesus Christ, you’ll also know forgiveness, a liberating gift from God. And that’s the key to it all. When it finally dawns on us that Jesus paid for our sins (past, present and future!), true joy floods into our hearts, and our lives are changed. The gift that Jesus gave to us over two millennia ago makes it Christmas all year long.
By the way, that famous writer I quoted earlier was the Apostle Paul, whose life wasn’t a bowl of cherries. He wrote while languishing in prison, sent there for preaching about the immeasurable love of Jesus Christ. Although he spent several terms incarcerated in different locations, Paul’s faith never wavered. No matter how bad things looked, no matter how dark the cells or how horribly he had been repeatedly beaten, Paul continued praising the Lord, glorifying Him in all circumstances. And joy poured through the prison, radiating through Paul and touching everyone he encountered, including other cellmates and guards. True joy comes in glorifying God, in response to our unending gratitude for the divine gifts God has sent from heaven.
So, begin right now. Find something different every day to thank God for. Keep praying and praising our Lord, and you’ll begin to experience new life. May you feel the joy of Christmas all year long
The writer is the pastor at Sidney First Presbyterian Church.