Hard-to-Smile Joy

Hard-to-Smile Joy

I love the holiday season.

For me, it evokes memories of baking cookies, playing Christmas cassette tapes (*gasp*), putting lights around the house with my dad, decorating the tree…and spending every other day vacuuming the fallen pine needles from the carpet. There were Christmas parties and paper snowflakes and gingerbread men to be frosted, there were caroling evenings and Christmas movies and Sunday School pageants and band concerts. Christmas time is always a happy memory in my mind.

Some years were harder than others, however. I’ve lost three of my four grandparents between the November-December months. My cat also died last year in November. This year many of us said goodbye to a wonderful friend when our pastor’s wife passed away from cancer.

And for some, this Christmas may seem less easily joyful.

I’ve been trying to figure out (for years now) why the holiday season in general can spark so many strong emotions in people. For children with absent parents, this time of year more harshly reinforces the disappointment of the failed relationship. For anniversaries of a loved one’s death, the holidays seem to chill the heart a little more.

But why is that? Why during the November-December months? Why Christmas?

Let’s do a quick history lesson, taken from the Bible.

God created the world…God created men to fill the world…we messed up big time…our originally pure relationship with God was wrecked…we spent thousands of years trying to mend the un-mendable…yeah, it wasn’t happening…but God knew that and decided that instead of us floundering in our own sins and never measuring up, He would forgive us…but that meant something absolutely perfect had to be sacrificed in our place, and we weren’t perfect…so He decided that Jesus–His son, His spirit–would come in flesh and blood to be the exchange…Jesus would die for us…but since He was also God…the grave couldn’t keep Him and He couldn’t stay dead…which meant Jesus would return to the right hand of His Father. And voila! We have salvation and forgiveness and mercy and grace…freely given and freely received. Now we can die and be with God, instead of dying and being eternally punished by God for our sins.

(Okay, so this is a very crude summation of the 66 books of the Bible, but I didn’t want to copy and paste it all in this post.)

So back to Christmas. December is the month we have traditionally chosen to celebrate the coming of a divine Savior to a broken world. The gifts we exchange are symbolic of the greatest gift we have ever been given: the gift of salvation through Christ, from God. Yeah, there are a lot of other silly things we add, too–I mean, I’m sure no one gave baby Jesus little snowman stickers or gingerbread men with white frosting buttons. And I’m quite sure the wise men weren’t singing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” on their long trek home.

In all seriousness, though, the entire holiday season can be painful if you try to go through it without God. It is a lonely feeling to see joy all around when it doesn’t seem to come to you.

But it has.

Joy has come, it might be a hard-to-smile joy right now, yet despite any circumstances, the joy of being sealed with Christ and having an eternal security, free from condemnation or punishment…is a joy that far outweighs any holiday tradition or trimming.

Christmas is a time that reminds us of a love that wraps us in freedom, despite any failed human relationships. It reminds us of a hope for the future, despite the sorrows of this year. It reminds us of grace where there had been none, and peace where only anxiety stayed. It reminds us of a joy that roots deep in the soul, reminding us that tears and sadness and broken emotions are only temporary.

But joy is eternal.


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