Joy is one of those buzzwords that gets tossed around quite a bit this time of year. Let’s talk about that, because if you’re like me, perhaps joy isn’t coming so easily this year.
Listening to my Christmas playlist the other day, I felt a pang of guilt. Somewhere between Joy to the World and O Come O Come Emmanuel calling me to Rejoice!, I realized that I didn’t feel joyful. I felt sad. I know that many chronic illness fighters can relate. This Christmas marks the closing of another year spent on the couch, another year that I’m still sick. It’s another holiday that looks nothing like it used to because of the many accommodations necessary to protect my health (like restrictions on food and traveling). It’s a reminder of the fact that our every last penny is going towards my treatment when we can’t afford Christmas presents. It’s a season of social gatherings with “yes” RSVPs sent hesitantly and “no” RSVPs sent with tears. It’s one of those times in the year when my physical limitations really come to the forefront and I become keenly aware of just how bad my health is.
So yeah, joy has been hard to come by this year.
And yet, the Bible calls us to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4).
Helloooooo God? Yes, did you hear me? I said I do NOT feel joyful. I am sad. My heart is grieving. I am in physical and emotional pain. It feels like everything in my world is coming undone. HOW can you possibly ask me to put all of that aside and do a happy dance instead?
^^^This is a summary of a very recent and very real prayer of mine. Yes, perhaps a little sassier than it should’ve been considering who I was addressing and all, but I couldn’t help myself. I was mad. It felt like a slap in the face to have been reminded of the call to be joyful in the midst of the chaos that is my life.
So I ignored it.
But I couldn’t turn on the radio or look at the ornaments on my tree without being reminded of this call to action by the Creator of the Universe that I was blatantly disregarding, so I eventually gave in to those nudges and did a little research on what biblical joy looks like and how it could possibly ever coexist with such deep sorrow.
What I found both surprised and encouraged me, and I’d like to share it with you today in case you’re also struggling with finding joy this holiday season.
We are not called to rejoice instead of mourning or feeling sorrowful or scared. It would be bizarre and creepy if we all walked around with huge smiles, all the time, no matter what horrible loss or daunting obstacle we faced.
Instead, we are called to “rejoice, though [we] are grieved” (1 Peter 1:6). Second Corinthians 6:10 describes a person “sorrowful, but always rejoicing.” Joy can, in fact, coexist alongside emotions that aren’t so sunny.
As an example, we need look no further than Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was taken to be crucified. He told three of his disciples that “[his] soul [was] deeply grieved, to the point of death,” (Matthew 26:38) and yet we also know that “for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:2).
If you’d like to read more about joy in sorrow, I recommend this article from John Piper. It was a great help to me as I wrestled through this topic.
Knowing that I didn’t have to stuff those feelings of sadness and sorrow to make room for gladness was a relief, but it was still a stretch to call myself joyful. From where does a person derive joy when so many things in this life are wrong? And how does this all tie in with the Christmas story?
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’” (Luke 2:8-11)
Did you catch that? “Good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Babies are born every day, and while they certainly do bring joy to their parents and families, it’d be a stretch to say they bring joy to all the people. Why was this baby’s birth special? If you don’t consider the rest of the story, it’s honestly not. Or well…maybe it’s special because he was born in a barn and he and Mary managed to not get an infection in the process. (Just being real here y’all.)
But when you consider that this birth was the beginning of Jesus’ perfect life that ultimately ended in his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, purchasing our salvation and freeing us from the shackles of sin…well, now we have a reason to be joyful! We have the joy of hope—hope for a heavenly home where there will be no pain or Lyme Disease (or any other sickness), for a glory-filled eternity, and for communion with our Heavenly Father.
Jesus’ birth was the first step towards the redemption of humanity, and this is why Christmas is a joyous time.
If you’re struggling to find joy in this holiday season, I want you to know that that is okay. Me too. We are only human, and sometimes, it’s hard to celebrate when our immediate circumstances are so rough. Today though, I’d like to encourage you (and myself) to step back from those circumstances, and choose a more eternal point-of-view. Let’s be the people who rejoice, though we are grieved and sorrowful, sick and exhausted, scared, and worn-thin. The birth of Jesus Christ has greater implications than any symptom, financial stress, or broken holiday tradition, and in that there is joy.
To stay up to date on all things caterpillar, subscribe below!