It is hard to believe that Christmas is a week away. The older I get, the faster Christmas seems to arrive. I don't anticipate Christmas's arrival quite like I used to. Over the last few years, I have felt numb during Christmas time. While Christmas is still a great time of worship, I don't feel the same about the holiday. I struggle with gift buying when I used to be able to come up with some great gift ideas for my loved ones. I guess I could blame it on Covid. Blaming things on COVID-19 seems to be the go-to move today. I mean, I do seem to have some level of brain fog. Then again, the last two Christmases have been marked by significant deaths in my family. As I write this (December 18), it has been two years since my stepfather passed away. Walter was a big part of my life and ministry. He would ride with me as I visited and ministered, among many other things. Then, on December 22, 2022, my mother passed away from cancer. Life is different without your mother. It only stands to reason that Christmas is not the same without her. Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, not death. Then again, maybe I don't understand joy.
Through study and prayer, I have discovered that I did not fully understand the joy that God gives. Like many, what I called "joy" was nothing more than pleasure. C.S. Lewis said, "Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy" (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, New York: Harcourt, INC., 1955, pgs 169-170). The problem with pleasure is that it is temporary, and you are left desiring more pleasure. That type of desire will lead you to deadly things that will leave you empty, broken, lonely, and depressed. We are created for so much more than the cheap thrills we pursue. Perhaps labeling pleasure as "joy" is a way to justify our fleshly desires. Or, maybe we need a better understanding of joy.
We can have joy in the absence of pleasure. The Apostle exhorts us to, 'Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4 NASB). We can always rejoice in the Lord because of what He has done, is, and will do. At Christmas, we can rejoice because He is with us (Matthew 1:23). Christians find joy in knowing what He has done on our behalf because we could not accomplish what He accomplished (Romans 5:6). As believers, we trust God with our life and its transformation. There is joy in knowing that God loves me too much to leave me like He found me. His transformative power can mold me into His Son's image (Colossians 3:9-11). After all, "for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17 NASB). Finally, our hope is not in political parties, medicine, or money. The hope of the believer is in Christ and His triumphant return. We rejoice, looking forward to our future resurrection and adoption as sons and daughters, including life with Him (Romans 8:12-25).
My mother wrote,
I woke up this morning, and the birds sang a beautiful song; if I knew the lyrics, I could sing along. Their song belongs to them as they sing your holy praise.
Let me sing a new song for the rest of my days.
I can sing of your mercy. I can sing of your grace.
I can sing about the day that I will see your face.
I can sing about all You did for me yesterday.
I can sing about the years gone by, and you never turned me away.
But today, when I woke, I felt your love again and your mercy brand new.
I can even call you a friend.
There is Something about today, a new song in my heart.
Something about today tells me this is a brand-new start.
I have a chance to show your love to everyone.
I can tell of a once cold heart warmed by the SON.
Something about today gives me another song to sing.
This is another chance to tell you that you are my everything.
Something about today.
Someone about today.
Thank You, Lord, for loving me and being my Something about today.
(This poem was written by Sheila Bunch. It is titled “Something About Today.” She sent this via a text message to this author in 2017)
My mother’s words remind me of the joy that only God can give. His joy is more significant than any pleasure. The joy we experience in Christ exceeds the joys of any holiday. May our hearts be filled with the joy of the Lord as we anticipate all that God is doing. N.T. Wright said,
"Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world…That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God's new world, which he has thrown open before us" (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, HarperONE, 2021, PG 237).
As we think about all God has for us, let us not settle for less. These words from Wright are worth our time this Christmas and every day. Walk in the Joy of the Lord!
Pastor Josh May