We hear much about joy even in this most craziest of years. As we spent our money in the stores, the music carried words like: “Joy to the World!” “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, and echoes of “Joy, joy, joy!” While the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus, gathering with loved ones (if you were able), and giving gifts should be times of great joy, many people are sinking into the holiday blues.
There are many reasons that holiday cheer lags. Many of those reasons are real (actual events or circumstances going on in life), but sometimes they are not real. Our blues can be created by continually dwelling about bad things that MIGHT happen, or by putting the worst possible spin on something that did happen. By adjusting our thoughts into conformity to the reality of God’s Word can help us renew some real joy in our hearts.
But in addition to unreal thoughts and expectations, there are other obstacles to joy this time of year. For some people, Christmas brings back memories of the loss of a loved one, or even the break up of a family. Maybe you did not grow up understanding the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. This could be your first Christmas to help those bad memories of the past with the true miracle of the season.
Grieving over our losses will still be sad, but meditating on the miraculous birth of Jesus (which led to his perfect life, substitutionary death on the cross, and glorious resurrection) helps mix your thinking with things that ultimately matter most. There will be many truly sad things that happen in a person’s life, but our state of mind is not anchored in our outward circumstances; it is also affected by inward realities.
Sin is another obstacle to joy. Because God is the creator of the universe, he has the right and the authority to establish the standards by which his creation should live. The problem comes when we as his creatures rebel against God and his ways in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. In the Bible, this is called sin. Sin not only separates us from a right relationship with God; it eventually makes us miserable.
When King David sinned against God, before long he was anything but happy, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained as with the fever heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4). You will never have true joy while living in your sin.
If sin is the obstacle keeping you from rejoicing always, confess your sin to the Lord. David was miserable while in sin, but he did not remain in that condition. “I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgression to the LORD’; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). Agreeing with God about your sin, and committing to turn from it unto him is the first step in regaining joy.
Another obstacle to joy can be difficult times in life. Even beyond the typical Christmas calamities, regular trials can pile up. This year has provided a dump truck full for plenty of people. When your car overheats, your pet runs away, or your financial income does not measure up to your financial outflow, it is a real challenge to have joy. These tough times can be explained two ways biblically. Either the Lord is bringing a trial into your life to help you become stronger as a believer, or he is disciplining you for a certain sin. Even AFTER you have confessed your sin, God could be bringing in some consequences.
In both of these types of situations, it is still possible to remain joyful. If the Lord is punishing you for a specific sin, that lets you know that he loves you, and he is working in your life. I remember my parents saying that they wouldn’t be punishing me if they did not love me. At the time I was wishing for less love, but now as a parent, I completely understand what they meant.
The Bible says the same thing about the Lord’s punishment, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Later, in that same section of Scripture, it says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).
When you are as certain as you can be that there is no specific sin that the Lord would be punishing, you can assume that he is allowing the tough situation as a way to strengthen you spiritually. The key to keeping joyful in such times is to remember the big picture. James 1:2-6 tells Christians that God allows trials to produce endurance. This endurance shapes our character into the image of Christ. Remembering the big picture helps you to keep rejoicing, not over the trial itself, but because of the ultimate outcome.
A final obstacle to joy comes from looking for joy in the wrong places. It is possible to find puddles of joy in places, but to rejoice always, you must have a spring of constant joy. Some find their joy in presents, family, friends, job, or even church. While all of those objects can offer happiness, they all can and will fail. The command of the Bible is to rejoice in the Lord always. The only way to rejoice ALWAYS, is to make sure that your joy is in the Lord. He is the everlasting fountain of joy, even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances.
The Bible’s commands make our joyful obligation certain. First Thessalonians 5:16 is short but to the point, “Rejoice always.” Paul says it with added punch in his letter to the Philippian church, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Joy is more than the by-product of living life for the Lord; God expects his children to rejoice all year long.
So if you are wrestling with holiday blues, stop and look for clues to your blues. Is the source of your blues real or is it imaginary? Is it related to a sin? Are your priorities biblically correct (That’s an important one!)? Is God in control of the situation (That is a trick question—the answer is always yes!)?
Even when your temptations are real, and it does not seem possible, the Lord wants you to rejoice in him right now. Pause one more time this season and consider the miracle of Christmas. Do not stop at the fact of a virgin conception, but think about what the implications of Jesus Christ are for your life. Find the fountain of joy in the Christmas child who is the Lord Jesus Christ!
By John Crotts