“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:10-11

Heart racing, hardly able to hold my position behind the imaginary line my brothers and I imposed on ourselves. Excitement and anticipation no longer contained. The sun barely above the horizon filtered through the towering redwood trees just outside. Smells of fir tree and freshly brewed coffee added to the fervor of delight. The only light illuminating the darkness came from the kitchen below where my grandparents awaited for the day’s festivities to begin. Sounds from my parents’ bedroom at the end of the hallway alerted us that the culmination of our anticipation was imminent. We waited to hear the parental “go” that signaled the start of the race downstairs to a Christmas tree bursting with presents. Each “Santa” pile (aka unwrapped presents) that sat in front of the tree, already well studied and claimed from the balcony above, marked our own personal finish lines. The door opened and the signal given, we dashed downstairs and the once dimly lit and quiet family room turned into a flurry of activity as the presents were passed out and torn open.

This was the pinnacle of joy for me as a child…the anticipation, the receiving of a new gift, a new toy, even a new sweater. This was what joy meant to little me…this exuberant cheerfulness. Memories of the gifts all opened and the wrappings, boxes and bows gathered into a pile and properly “swam” through, still bring a smile to my face. My happiest childhood memories revolve around Christmas. But they are also some of my hardest memories. Some loved ones are no longer seated at the table to enjoy the Christmas feast. There will be no searching for that perfect present for many I miss. But also making new memories with childhood loved ones is difficult and complicated, if not impossible. Christmas is hard.

For the last two years God has sent me on a journey I never thought I would travel again. Past dysfunction and difficult memories plunged me into a dark depression and a constant struggle with deeply rooted anger. My joy was seemingly gone. Laughter was hard. Looking up was harder. But a key truth I learned going into this journey was that sadness and joy, even anger and joy, can exist simultaneously. This helped me take the next steps of healing and heart change. True joy is grounded in Jesus, not how I feel in any given moment.

John MacArthur defines joy as “a happiness based on unchanging divine promises and eternal spiritual realities. It is the sense of well-being experienced by one who knows all is well between himself and the Lord (1 Peter 1:8). Joy is not the result of favorable circumstances, and even occurs when those circumstances are the most painful and severe (John 16:20-22). Joy is a gift from God, and as such, believers are not to manufacture it but to delight in the blessing they already possess.” (Romans 14:17; Philippians 4:4).

Hard times are inevitable, but “grown-up me” can have joy in Jesus even when life around me seems to be falling apart. Because He is my hope. Because He has rescued, restored and redeemed me. Because He promises to never leave me or forsake me and because His joy is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10) in the hard.

He is the good news of great joy for all people. The long ago promised Messiah is here. Here to save all people from sin and death. He came as a tiny babe to live the perfect life we could never live. Because God’s standard is perfection. He came to die as the perfect Lamb bearing all our sin and shame. Because the payment for sin is death. But Jesus died in our place! He bore the wrath of God the Father so we would not have to. He came to rise again from the dead, conquering death once for all. Because the grave could not hold Him.

The good news of great joy that first Christmas was a Baby in a manger. Jesus was the first Christmas gift, wrapped in grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. Joy is our only reasonable response to God’s lavish love and goodness (Max Lucado, Because of Bethlehem, p.163). Joy is a choice to dwell on His promises and faithful work in our lives, rather than our circumstances. It goes deep. It endures forever. It is not circumstantial. It is not based on feelings. It is a choice.
He is joy.

In this season of waiting we also look for Him to return. As we wait “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Remember as we celebrate His first humble
arrival on earth that He is coming a second time in glory to wipe every tear from our eyes and restore all that is broken (Genesis 3; Revelation 21:4). There will be no death or crying or mourning or depression or anger or pain.

Christmas is hard for many, but remember it is okay to not be okay. Because our joy is rooted in Jesus, sadness, anxiety, and suffering can coexist with joy. Let our joy be praise and worship for the King has come. Praise Him for His marvelous mercy, lavish love and generous grace…these can never be taken from us. We have joy in Jesus because our hope, peace and love are
grounded in His coming…in a manger two thousand years ago and on a cloud (Acts 1:9-11) someday soon. As we approach our Savior’s birth this Advent, let us choose to race to the Joy filled manger, fixing our eyes on the ultimate finish line marked…not by a pile of exquisitely wrapped (or unwrapped) gifts, but by the ultimate Gift…Jesus. He will be back.

And let us sing…

Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him
room, and heaven and nature sing…

Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns; Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks,
hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy…

No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His
blessings flow far as the curse is found…

He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove. The glories of His
righteousness, and wonders of His love…

Praying you have a wonderful Christmas rejoicing in the One who came to save, bring Hope everlasting, and Joy irrepressible. Praying you experience Him in new ways, as He illuminates the dark, the Light of the world.