Monday, December 19, 2022

Joy in a Time of Struggle


And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2: 10-11

Joy is the emotion we most often associate with Christmas. After all, it is the day we rejoice over the birth of the Messiah. In an infant's first cry, God set the stage for a permanent change in our status with our Creator. The saving work of Jesus transforms us from hopeless sinners to hope-filled children of God. No other event in this world could produce a stronger joy.

Some of us may struggle with feeling joy this Christmas. How can we be expected to feel joy amid grief over losing a loved one? Where do we find joy while enduring a life-threatening illness? And what about those people whose life situations increase the burden of their depression? Can we, or should we, manufacture joy? Is it permissible not to feel joy at Christmas?

Emotions are tools of our brain for reacting to people, news, and situations. We can regulate our emotions by helping them to fit a situation better. However, each emotion has its authenticity and purpose. As Ecclesiastes 3: 4 reminds us, there is a time for both sadness and joy. Our emotions are there for a reason. Our grief, worry, and sadness can all draw us closer to God as we realize our need for His love and mercy

I think of Christmas joy differently. This joy is not something we create – joy is something we receive. Joy is not only the reaction to grace; it is grace. The remembrance of the birth of the Christ Child brings us joy even in the darkest of circumstances. That joy is real even when mixed with grief or weariness. Jesus' birth and what it brings to us are true even when we don't feel like celebrating. Because Christmas joy is a gift from God, it is not emotionally exclusive. We can feel seemingly opposite emotions simultaneously. However, the emotions change each other. We may not feel the exuberant joy of a much hoped-for gift or the tearful joy in the embrace of a loving reunion. 

Instead, we find the quiet, soul-saturating joy of communion and the realization of the depth and breadth of God's love for us. Because of Jesus' sacrifice, we have a place at His sacred table.

We can experience joy in both the best and worst of circumstances. This "good news of great joy" is a joy that marks an awareness of God's amazing grace. It is not so much an excited, euphoric joy but a quiet mindfulness of God's saving and healing love emanating from the bed of the newborn Christ child and echoing in the Easter tomb.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”  So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28: 5-8


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