“You become imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
– 1 Thessalonians 1:6
Over the past week I have been reminded while Christmas is a time of great happiness and anticipation, it can also be a time of sadness and dread. Everywhere around us are the sights and sounds of Christmas. Homes are decorated inside and out and songs of the season serenade us in the stores and in our cars. Kitchens are filled with the familiar aroma of sugar cookies and cheese biscuits that are baked with smiles on our faces and love in our hearts. At the same time, my mailbox is filled with prayer requests and appeals from people who are hurting. A young college student dies tragically from a brain tumor; people in my community are hungry and cold; a longtime coach is back in the hospital following the return of cancer. It’s hard to find joy in any of these circumstances. The Apostle Paul helps us gain some perspective with the ongoing conflict between joy and pain.
In most of Paul’s writings, he associates joy with times of affliction. They might be referred to as “heavy pressure” situations. An accepted form of punishment at one time was to tie up the offender, put them on their back and then place a heavy rock on top of them until they were crushed to death. Now that’s a pressure situation. Paul teaches it’s in these pressure situations that we need help from the Holy Spirit. We can’t do it alone. The things that bring us happiness come and go very quickly. They are circumstantial and can disappear right in front of our eyes. Joy however, is a product of God’s grace. It’s a constant, something that comes from being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ and it spills out in hard times. I pray that you will be filled with JOY this Christmas regardless of your circumstances. Hug your spouse and kids or that special person in your life. Reach out and encourage those who need a helping hand. Recharge your body with some much needed rest. Above all, remember God loves you, God is with you and God is for you.
Heavenly Father, thank You for being a God of joy. Your love never fails. Teach me today to find joy in You and in those around me, regardless of my circumstances. Amen.