We are three days from Christmas and everyone seems to be buzzing with “what is the Christmas spirit”. Typically at this time of the year, the words used are “being jolly”, “having cheer”, “glee”, falalalala…and all that. A very Merry Christmas.
But this year has been difficult for many of us and so this season feels different too. A lot of us have struggled this year – we’ve faced job losses, we’ve seen the inside of hospitals one too many times, we’ve lost loved ones. It’s been tough, and grey and dark. We’ve battled loneliness and depression. And it really doesn’t feel like Christmas for some of us.
I’ve been beating myself up and feeling quite guilty for not being “Christmassy”, almost being a spoilsport as it were.
Until it occurred to me that actually this Christmas is so similar to the first Christmas ever celebrated.
Think about it – people were under a king/government that didn’t seem to care much about them and was just power hungry. There was rampant corruption. To top that, there was a census that led to displacement – everyone had to go back to their home town and there was a large scale migration. Isn’t that so similar to what we saw during the months of lockdown ? Migrant labours all walking back home- people going back to their hometowns.
We read in Isaiah 9, where he’s prophesying about the birth of Jesus –
“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress…… the people walking in darkness have seen a great light….on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.“Isaiah 9:1-2
The general air of the people is despair, distress, darkness, gloom.
But then something happens…or actually SOMEONE happens. And the mood just changes!
Take for example Elizabeth – Elizabeth has been childless and given up on having a child . But then when she’s very old, she has the promise of a baby. In Luke 1:24, it says she was in seclusion for 5 months. She’s actually in lockdown, an old lady, dealing with her first pregnancy – all alone.
Even her husband can’t speak– and so she’s literally in lockdown for five months with no one to speak to! There’s no Zoom or Whatsapp for her to chat with either.
But in the sixth month, Mary has a visitation from the angel and then goes to visit Elizabeth. And then in verse 44 we find this:
“As soon as the sound of your (Mary’s) greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy!“
The scene shifts – Elizabeth has an encounter with the unborn baby and her loneliness is replaced with joy.
Let’s see what happens with Mary – the mother of Jesus.
Now Mary is a young teenage girl. She’s not married yet and she has a visitation from the angel and is told that she’s highly favored and is going to have a baby. An unwed, young girl is told she’s going to be a mother.
Luke 1:29 says Mary was greatly troubled at his words (the words of the angel), and that’s not a surprise. She’s going to be the talk of the town, people are going to be gossiping about her. Who’s going to believe her, when she says she’s had an angel visitation and she’s a virgin carrying the Son of God in her womb?
But then again – we see the scene shift. Once she conceives, she has an encounter with the baby, and she breaks into song! Mary is praising and worshiping God. Her fear, her trepidation have been replaced by joy, even though her situation hasn’t changed!
Another example from the Christmas story – the Magi.
These guys have made a long journey and are tired, hungry and worn out and finally find their way to Bethlehem. As they draw close to the house where the baby is born, this is what we find in Matthew 2: 10 –
“when they saw the star they were overjoyed.”
And so we see that joy is the outcome of an encounter. It’s not a feeling. It’s the presence of a person – the person of Jesus.
The English language tells us the opposite of joy is sorrow. But I find that it may not be the truth. Because the Bible tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows, but in Him is the promise of joy.
Joy is irrespective of what’s happening around us. Its irrespective of circumstance. It’s irrespective of the highs and lows.
Joy and Presence are entwined together. Expecting one without the other is quite futile.
I’ve often wondered why God chose to send His Son as a baby. He could have come as a cloud of fire again, or as a burning bush again, or as anything that was fierce and awesome and God like!
But He chose to come as a baby.
And here’s the thing about babies. In any room, it is always the baby that’s the centre of attention
And when you draw near and actually hold the baby – something shifts. No matter what kind of day you’ve had, or what you’ve been through, it all tends to take a back seat.
That’s what God wants to give us. That connection, not just for a moment, but for a lifetime.
He asks us to draw near the baby – and let everything else fall away. To be drawn to His presence and to have His joy.
You know kids love to go for birthday parties, but it’s not just for the cake and the balloons and games. These days it’s all about the return gifts!
And so this is the return gift that God gives us for coming into His presence – joy! Not happy clappy, cheer and jollyness. But joy – a deep rooted confidence in His presence.
And what does He ask of us?
Just to come. Just to be present. Just to draw close.
He’s not asking us to come feeling happy or cleaned up or made up. He just asks us to come. And come closer.
But there’s one last thing – this joy is not just for us to keep for ourselves.
There is really nothing else that the world needs today. Yes, there’s darkness, despair, distress and even death. But in the midst of that is the promise of the fullness of Joy. A joy that this world will miss out completely on, unless we step out, in love, in the overflow of His presence to tell the world about our encounter with the Savior who was born to be broken for them.
So I’m not going to wish you a Merry Christmas this year. I’m going to wish you a season of deep, unadulterated joy in the presence of our Saviour and the overflow of His joy into the world around us.