I have always loved the Christmas season: the sense of anticipation, time with family, hunting for the perfect gift for someone I love, cookie baking, decorating, and all the other rich family traditions that surround it. However, it isn’t that way for everyone.
As every adult knows, we begin to experience the realities of life, and we start to see things through a different lens than we did as a child. Joyful anticipation turns into panic to get everything done in time. Memories of time with family turns into reminders of lost or strained relationships. Hunting for the perfect gift becomes a dreaded trip to the crowded mall filled with impatient people. And the family traditions once loved are set aside due to the present realities of life.
The carefree days as a child – when our eyes were filled with excitement and innocence – seem long ago to those who are worn and weary from the burdens of life.
I have come to experience many of these changes myself as I’ve grown, become a parent, and faced some long lasting trials. So much of my perspective on Christmas (and life in general) has changed over the last few years. While I love seeing the joy in my children as they open a gift just as much as any other parent, I’ve also become keenly aware of what will immediately follow. They will toss the gift aside almost as quickly as they tore it open and say, “Next one?!” All those gifts will be played with for a time and will eventually get pushed to the back of the closet.
Doesn’t this reflect our own hearts as well? So much of life is spent striving for the next thing. But not long after we receive it, our hearts begin to long for something more, something better. We see this clearly as the day of Christmas approaches. The excitement builds, the day comes and goes in a blink of an eye, and all the excitement and cheer is gone as quickly as it came.
Why do we often feel let down when Christmas is over?
Could it be because, during this time more than ever, there are many things on our to-do lists?
Could it be that the world’s idea of “Christmas spirit” is masking itself as satisfying joy?
Could it be that we lose sight of the truth that our joy in Christ lasts longer than a season?
How do we not get lost in the hustle and bustle of all that needs to get done? I would like to suggest three ways to seek true joy this Christmas season:
Evaluate how our time is being spent to see if it truly reflects what we value.
“For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting only to give to the one who pleases God” (Ecclesiastes 2:26).
Even as believers who know that Christmas is about the birth of our Savior, too often our time and priorities can end up reflecting very little of him. We stress and strive over gifts, parties, and decorations and sometimes get so burned out that we lose the true joy of the season: Christ was born sinless and died so that we could one day have eternal life free of sin!
Is our joy being based on that truth or are we exhausting ourselves over all the extra fluff that so easily distracts us? Are we first spending our time and energy in things that reflect that truth before running to our to-do lists? Let’s simplify this season and leave room for the joy of Christ’s birth to fill us first and foremost.
Hold loosely to our plans and expectations by keeping an eternal perspective and being content in any circumstance.
“What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live” (Ecclesiastes 2:9-12).
These verses tell us that we cannot possibly know all that God has done or is doing. Focusing on the disappointments life brings will only strip our joy and contentment from us. If we are to find joy, we must first begin with trusting God’s sovereignty over all things and being content in the place we are: the sudden sickness that hits the family the day before Christmas, the snow storm that prevents you from traveling home to see your family, or the grieving of something or someone who has been lost this year. Though it seems like suffering may never end, be encouraged that God makes everything beautiful in its time, and we can trust in his goodness and faithfulness.
I am keenly aware that this cannot be done in our own strength. We are quick to become frustrated when we are reminded that we have no control whatsoever. But by God’s grace, we can ask him to give us contentment and joy in the place he has us this Christmas season and beyond, knowing that the birth, death, and resurrection of his Son is what gives us hope beyond our circumstances.
Place our hope in things of eternal value in order to enjoy giving and receiving the good gifts God has given us on earth.
“That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12).
When we find our joy and contentment in Christ and our hope in eternity, we are free to enjoy the earthly gifts he lavishly pours out on us. Our hearts our changed from always needing more to satisfy us to being filled with the truth that Christ is all that we need. When we hold loosely to things on earth that we desire, we are able to receive them as gracious gifts from God with joy and thanksgiving, without fear of losing them: giving and receiving gifts, spending time with family, being healthy, special traditions, and above all, celebrating the birth of the One who is the center of our joy.
Let’s evaluate our priorities, seek an eternal perspective this Christmas, and experience the freedom to enjoy God’s blessings in our lives for his glory. The “magic of Christmas” lasts but a moment, but joy in our Savior will last for eternity.
[Image credit: Flickrcc.net]