“Did you have a good Christmas?” I asked one of my daughter’s friends, who had arrived for the sleepover.
“Yes! It was great!” She said brightly, as I took her coat. The answer was an instant one.
It is the answer that everyone expects to hear, after all.
I hung up her coat and when I turned around, I was surprised to see that her expression had grown serious. Her eyes met mine briefly.
“Actually, I don’t know why I said that,” Her voice was quiet, especially in light of the riotous laughter coming from the other girls in the kitchen. “The real answer to your question is no. It wasn’t all that great.”
At that moment, my daughter saw that her friend had arrived. Happy greetings were exchanged and the sleepover officially began. As the girls stampeded up the stairs, I thought about the mandatory happiness our culture insists that we must have during the holiday season.
Except that sometimes life isn’t all that happy.
In the past, I have had wonderful, magical Christmases when laughter has been abundant and one joyful moment followed another.
This year, Christmas was not like that at all.
There were hurt feelings (mine); illness (the entire family was at one stage or another of the terrible cold that has been going around); disappointment that certain family members couldn’t be with us; and a kitchen filled with smoke as the lovely sound of the fire alarm that is loud enough to raise the dead rang throughout the house. (I may have mentioned a time or two on this blog that cooking is NOT my thing!).
We received the unwelcome and frightening news that the mother of our son’s girlfriend had suffered a heart attack on Christmas Eve and had to be taken by ambulance to a hospital an hour away. (Fortunately, she is home now and a full recovery is expected). One of my dearest friends was dealing with a sick child who had to be hospitalized. Another sweet friend was still reeling from the news that her husband has cancer and this next year will be filled with hellish, aggressive treatments in an attempt to save his life. My heart ached as I thought of all the parents in Newtown, CT who greeted Christmas Day without their children. The country is on the verge of financial disaster as it looks like we may go over the fiscal cliff and there are ominous rumblings that a tsunami of new government regulations is on its way.
So much pain, fear and uncertainty.
This Christmas, more than any other, I was reminded that we live in a fallen and broken world.
Happiness was not abundant this Christmas for me.
Yet…my joy was abundant.
You see, happiness is dependent on happy circumstances. Happiness is extremely tenuous, fragile as the morning mist. It can be snatched away by bad news, or a word spoken in anger, or a crushing disappointment, or a devastating diagnosis.
But JOY…true joy… is absolutely indestructible and blazes like a forest fire even when the pain of this world sears our fragile hearts.
Joy is a Person…the very Person whose birth we celebrate every Christmas Day.
Jesus is the personification of joy. The very source of joy. A never-ended fountain of joy.
Since Jesus never changes, His joy never dims.
The joy Jesus offers us is the very joy that He possesses and always has known. It has nothing whatsoever to do with our circumstances because His joy is not of this world. He delights to gift us with His heavenly joy even now, as we live on the topsoil of earth.
His joy shining in us even when life hurts is the very thing that alerts a dark and dying world that there is Hope and Light and Peace…because Jesus, who is the Source of all those wondrous things…is ALIVE.
I hope you had a wonderful, magical Christmas this year.
But if you didn’t, that’s okay too. I hope that His joy—which always whispers to us that the best is yet to come and this world isn’t all there is— made your heart full in the midst of it all.
“I have told you these things that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be of full measure and complete and overflowing.”—Jesus (John 15:11).