Christmas should be a joyful season of the year, right? Homes are decorated, families gather, lots of good food is prepared — all reasons for a cheerful disposition. Why is it, then that so many face the holidays with dread and depression?
Maybe they’re looking for joy in all the wrong places.
I don’t say this sitting in judgement. I know how it is. Holidays can be very bittersweet, as they bring back memories; and when memories come to mind, so does a sense of loss. I remember the first Christmas my parents said we were going to draw names for gifts. That about broke my heart. What’s the use of being born the youngest in a family of five if you can’t get a gift from everyone?
That loss may seem minor, but it was just as real as the first Christmas without my grandmother, who lived with us for twelve years. Just as real as my first Christmas without my family, when I lived in West Africa after college. Just as real as my first Christmas without my mother…my father…my husband. All losses seem to drain the joy away.
So, I look at the carol for today and remember to go back to the source of my joy. How Great Our Joy* has a simple message. In summary, it says:
While the shepherds watched their sheep, the angels brought glad tidings.
A child is born in Bethlehem who will redeem us all.
He is a gift of God for us to cherish, that our hearts will be full of joy.
This message of good news is the reason for the chorus:
How great our joy! Great our joy! Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy, joy! Praise we the Lord in heav’n on high! Praise we the Lord in heav’n on high!
The knowledge of the coming of not just a child, but redeemer, should compel us to sing joy, joy, joy! Even when loss presses in, the joy remains, because the things and people of this world will always be temporal and fleeting, but there is a world to come, brought to us by God’s intervention into history. This eternity has been planted in each of us who follow Christ. The light dispels the darkness and replaces despair with hope, sadness with joy.
It reminds me of another song:
There’s within my heart a melody; Jesus whispers sweet and low, “Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still,” in all of life’s ebb and flow. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, fills my ev’ry longing, keeps me singing as I go.**
Do you have a melody in your heart? How great is your joy this Christmas? Let it be filled to overflowing with the knowledge that Jesus came to save, and you are his forever. That’s the only reason for joy!
*WORDS: Traditional German Carol. MUSIC: Traditional German Melody; arr. Hugo Jungst, 1853-1923.
**He Keeps me Singing. WORDS and MUSIC: Luther B. Bridges, 1884-1948.