Do you remember being a child and anxiously counting down the days until Christmas? Maybe on an advent calendar or maybe a paper chain that you made? Do you remember singing Christmas carols without a care as to how you sounded and dancing around the house laughing? Do you remember being so excited on Christmas Eve night that you could barely sleep? And waking before the sun to see if Santa had come?
As children, it seems that the joy of Christmas is impossible to miss. Without having to worry about running errands and getting things done around the house, children can focus purely on the excitement of the season. Even if part of that excitement is directed towards the coming of Santa, they still know and experience the incredible joy of the Christmas season.
As we get older, sometimes that excitement can begin to fade. Perhaps because our schedules have become so busy we don’t have time to stop and focus on the joy. Perhaps because we have experienced pain and sorrow and the Christmas season makes us feel sad or alone in suffering. Perhaps it is simply that we feel we have other, more important things going on.
Whatever the reason, as Christians we are called to find that joy again and to share it with all those we meet. Despite our hectic schedules, despite the suffering we may be experiencing, despite the things we have going on in our lives, there is always time to find the joy.
Mary and Joseph did not face an easy road in preparing for that first Christmas or in the years that followed. Yet, despite it all, they found joy. In fact, the whole Christmas story is filled with examples of joy.
Mary, after learning the news that she would be the mother of Christ, goes to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth greets her with joy. John the Baptist, still in his mother’s womb, leaps for joy! And Mary, despite all that was going on in her life, since learning this news, exclaims with great joy, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
At the birth of Christ, the angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds saying “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11).
When the wise men, on their search to see this new King, saw the star in the sky, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).
The Christmas story is filled with joy, not because there was a complete lack of stress, pain, and suffering. They did not experience the joy because they had nothing else to worry about or because they had never experienced sadness. They had problems much like we all do today. But they were able to recognize that something bigger was happening.
Something bigger than the fear of a young, unmarried girl being found pregnant. Something bigger than the stress of traveling such a long distance while nine months pregnant. Something bigger than the worry of having to search for a place to stay and eventually finding only a stable to give birth.
That something was the long awaited Messiah! Jesus Christ, the Son of God! And joy that they felt that first Christmas, the joy that we experienced so freely as children, that joy is still there calling to us in the midst of this holiday season.
Being filled with the joy of Christ’s birth doesn’t mean all problems will magically melt away. It doesn’t mean the gifts will wrap themselves and there will be nothing else on the to-do list. But it does mean that in spite of whatever else we may be dealing with, God is with us! Emmanuel! And that wondrous and amazing reality, that God sent His Son to us as a tiny babe to save us all and resides within the heart and soul of each and every one of us? That is something bigger than all the stuff we have going on. That is something to truly fill us with joy.
Merry Christmas to you all! May it be a season filled with holiness, family, friends, and joy.