Finding Christmas Joy
Download Audio (10MB)
Just about everyone is excited to receive a gift. There is also a special joy in giving gifts. In the U.S., there are a lot of traditions when it comes to Christmas, and they vary by families, but it seems the one tradition they all share is gift exchange. Stores know this, so they prepare months before Christmas by flooding the shopping floors with potential gifts and pictures of happy people receiving the store’s wares as gifts. They aggressively offer deals, sale days, shopping rewards and incentives, and layaway plans in an attempt to earn your holiday dollars. Everyone from the car dealership to the dollar store offers ideas of what you can get your loved ones for Christmas.
I didn’t grow up in the U.S. or in places where Christmas equaled abundance of fanfare and gifts. I’m not going to lie, the first Christmas that I had the opportunity to “go all out at Christmas” I spent days shopping at the mall, hours researching “best” purchases online, and more hours perfectly wrapping gifts and tying the packages with beautiful bows.
As Christmas drew near, I heard myself a few times saying, I can’t wait till this is all over. I had never felt anxious for Christmas to be over before! Each of my previous Christmases was spent performing benefit shows for orphanages, hospitals, schools, and prisons, and other performances at shopping malls and Christmas parties. I loved every minute of it, and though we were tired by the time Christmas arrived, I never felt any dread associated with the season.
Now I found myself participating in a “traditional Christmas,” and instead of it being a joy-filled time, it was becoming stressful. I realized I was surrounded and consumed by Christmas but had the feeling that I was missing Christmas altogether. But I powered through anyway, right up to the most hectic Christmas Eve celebration I had ever experienced. Hundreds of gifts were exchanged and trash bag upon trash bag of wrapping paper and packaging was gathered. I sat there in the aftermath of “Christmas” feeling so terribly underwhelmed. I felt like I had missed the grand finale of a great movie and just skipped to the part where the credits roll. Where did Christmas go?
All those thoughtfully purchased gifts? As the weeks and months rolled by, I happened upon various gifts I had given, stashed in the back of a drawer or sitting on a shelf gathering dust. I also found some of the gifts I had received were useless. We had collectively spent thousands of dollars on gifts, and a few weeks later, it seemed like no one was any better off for it.
Before I sound like the Grinch who stole Christmas, I want to make it clear that I am not against the giving of gifts. I just hate to see Christmas eclipsed by a frenzy of shopping and stressing. On that disappointing Christmas, I learned that the real spirit of Christmas, the joy that makes Christmas special, is something you have to seek out. It doesn’t just come because it’s December and you’re buying gifts, decorating a tree, and listening to Christmas music.
To find the real meaning of Christmas, a good place to start is by making a distinction between Christmas and the giving of gifts. Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ coming to earth. Some of the ways I plan to spread the spirit of Christmas this year is by sending donations to mission works that are making Christmas special for kids and families in need; practicing random acts of kindness in my community; avoiding the mall; keeping Christmas simple with less fussing and more meaning, and spending as much time as possible with family and friends.
And the gift I am giving Jesus? Gratitude!
December is here. I challenge you to take time before the Christmas frenzy is in high gear to think of how you will make this beautiful season meaningful, and how you will “find Christmas” this year.—Mara Hodler
A case for joy
I think it is truly possible to have a miserable Christmas. We can get so caught up in all the hoopla of gift-giving, we convince ourselves that if we don’t find a certain gift, we are not a good husband or wife or father or mother or friend ... and so on. Then again, perhaps you are going through a hardship right now and Christmas is a difficult time for you. Maybe you can’t wait for the holidays to be over.
We need to get back to the original idea of what Christmas is all about: joy. It is about joy because a Savior has been born. When Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she was to be the mother of the Messiah, he said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”1
And rejoice is exactly what Mary did. In what we call the Magnificat, Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”2
Luke 2 tells us that the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy”—not just joy, but great joy. …
In Jesus’ day, there were a lot of things to be afraid of. The Jews were living under the reign of the tyrant Herod, who could execute at will, in a land that was occupied by the Romans. They were fearful about their future. Would they ever be free again? Would the Messiah ever come? ...
The angel’s message to the shepherds was this: “Don’t be afraid. The Messiah has come. This is good news that you need to know so you can have great joy.” ...
We have a Savior who has forgiven us. We have a Messiah who keeps His promises. Finally, we have a Lord—not just a companion and not just a buddy. We have a Lord, which means we have someone to direct us in the way we should go in life. We have someone who will protect us as we go in that way, and someone who will welcome us into heaven when this life is over.
We have a Savior. We have a Christ. We have a Lord. And that is all we need to have a joyful Christmas.—Greg Laurie3
Perfection in imperfection
I once googled “imperfect Christmas” when writing an article about Christmas, and discovered I wasn’t alone in the quest to learn to embrace Christmas with all its imperfections. So many people of all ages and backgrounds made the same discovery of learning to be happy with their less-than-picture-perfect Christmas.
Here are some of my favorite comments from various blogs:
A lawyer named George said, “Every Christmas won’t be perfect. Every year, perhaps every week, will have its challenges and disappointments. But all of us should remember that we are here to help each other weather the tough times and find a path to happier times. That’s what being a good friend is all about. Our lives and our Christmases don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be willing to share our struggles and our joy with each other.”
Professor Gordon Flett from York University in Canada made an interesting observation: “Christmas reflects huge cultural expectations that things have to look (be just) right. We have a consumer-based society that says if you have the perfect look or the perfect achievement, the perfect life will follow. People expend so much effort achieving this ideal, so by the time the holidays arrive, they’re stressed.”
The media bombards us with images of things we supposedly need to have a better life. This can leave you feeling like you’re lacking when your life doesn’t look as fashionable or comfortable as it does in ads or movies, for instance.
A blogger named Sarah wrote, “Sometimes it’s easy to be lured into the Pinterest Christmas, the myth of the perfect, designer, foodie, cool Christmas. The idea behind it seems to be that, if we decorate it beautifully, it will be beautiful, and somehow our surroundings are the best indicator for our inner peace and joy, our best defense against the reality of our own imperfections at Christmas. This year… I’m celebrating my imperfect Christmas. Maybe no one wants to Pin it or sponsor it, but I’ll be one of the few and the proud. I’m sitting here now, in the glow of a thousand colored mini-lights, and I love my imperfect Christmas and my imperfect family so much. All is, somehow, mysteriously, calm and bright.”
I’ll leave you to reflect on this last and beautiful thought by another blogger: “Christmas isn’t about perfection. It’s celebrating the One who saved us from our impossible need to be perfect.”—Nina Kole
Published on Anchor December 2019. Read by Jon Marc. Music from the Rhythm of Christmas album. Used by permission.
1 Luke 1:28.
2 Luke 1:46–47.