As I sit here writing these words, Lord, I sense the same old feelings of overwhelm, stress, and anxiety beginning to wash over me again. Every year, it’s the same old story – Christmas is fast approaching, my self-imposed to-do list is quickly lengthening, and I am struggling to catch my breath both spiritually and physically. How am I going to make the magic happen – especially in all the ordinary moments of cleaning up messes, chauffeuring kids around to activities, stringing up Christmas lights, cooking yet another meal, breaking up sibling squabbles, and, oh yeah, also trying to still find the time to prioritize my marriage?
I wonder, dear reader – have you ever felt this way yourself? Have you ever felt a familiar dread wash over you when the calendar turns from November to December and you think of all the Christmas festivities coming around the corner? We find ourselves coming close to the holiday of giving and receiving, yet, oftentimes, our joy is nowhere to be found. We look for, and expect to find, our joy in decorations, festivities, traditions, and in finding the perfect gift. But once again it happens this year just as it did the last, our expectations for the season grow higher and higher only to crumble under their own weight, and joy is still nowhere to be found.
One of my favorite Christmas songs speaks to our experience. The songwriter of the popular hymn, “Joy to the World,” rightly teaches us Joy’s source is found first in receiving, not in striving.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!”
(Joy to the World)
I ponder these words anew as I think back to how I have been feeling.
Maybe I have put the cart before the horse?
Maybe my true joy this Christmas season won’t be found in finally pulling off that award-winning Christmas dinner.
Maybe it won’t come from having the most beautifully decorated house on the block.
Maybe my joy isn’t actually meant to be found in doing…
Maybe my joy is a Person.
You have come, O Lord. Help me to receive You and thereby receive my sought-after joy. Help me to remember joy is actually always available because it is not found in my circumstances, but in You. (Psalm 16:7-11) You have come, and now I receive joy when I receive You… into my life, my heart, my stress, my overwhelm, and into my ordinary everyday moments.
I begin to realize that unless I humble myself,
coming to Christ aware of my sin and need for a Savior,
joy will always be elusive.
After all, isn’t that the basis of the gospel I claim to believe, the gospel that began with the advent of the Christ child? That I, as John Newton famously said, am a great sinner and that He is a great Savior?
I continue to ponder as my mind goes to the next line…
“Let every heart prepare Him room!”
After we receive Christ as our Savior, we then must seek (with the help of the Holy Spirit!) to prepare our hearts. We must willingly partner with Him to cultivate a place of worship in our hearts, a home for Joy.
If we receive a gift, but never use it, it is meaningless. Apostle and early Church preacher Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1 to walk in the freedom God has gifted to us. He goes on to describe a life marked by walking with the Spirit (verses 16-18) and bearing the fruits of the Spirit, including joy. (verses 22-23)
As we walk and bear fruit by the Spirit, our minds and hearts are prepared to dwell with Joy. As we take our thoughts captive to His truth, our minds are renewed (Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5) and our hearts begin to overflow with His love (1 Corinthians 13).
“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His
far as the curse is found.”
As I consider the third verse of the hymn, it suddenly hits me: we need to spend far more time walking by the Spirit to prepare our hearts for Him than we do sorrowing and striving over how to pull off the most “magical” holiday. The “magic” of Christmas, if you will, is found in the baby in the manger, not in a “Pinterest-perfect holiday”.
When we receive and then prepare, the Lord of Joy rules and reigns in our hearts “far as the curse is found.”
We still live in a fallen world, and when we freely confess our ongoing sin and effects of the curse, nothing is ever able to steal our joy again.
Instead, we encounter “His truth and grace,”
“the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.”
“He has come to make His blessing flow” through today and every day of this holiday season and beyond. Thanks to the Advent of Joy Himself, we are able to experience joy, even in the most ordinary moments.
Praise be to God!
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