Words from our District Superintendent
JOY IN A JOYLESS WORLD
Christmas is only a week away! It is said that this is the season of Joy but after nearly 30 years as a pastor, it seems to me that for many this is a Joyless season, a time of sadness, anxiety, remembering loss, and even grief.
I recall my first Christmas after the death of my parents in 1987. My mum passed in April of that year and my dad died (of heartbreak) a few days after Christmas of ‘87. I spent most of that year in a dark drug and alcohol saturated haze. In September of 1988 I became a Christian but as Christmas loomed ahead of me I was full of anxiety, a deep sense of loss and, of course, joylessness.
It would be my first Christmas without family, a tree, lights, decorations, a wonderful Christmas meal, and gifts. Like many at this time of year I dreaded the season. There was no ‘deck the halls’, ‘Joy to the world’, or ‘Hark, the Herald Angels sing’, it was turning out to be more of a ‘Blue Christmas’ than a ‘Merry Christmas’!
As Christmas drew closer I busied myself with work and volunteered for anything I could at Church, especially on Christmas Eve, so that I wouldn’t have to face the reality of my life.
Imagine my shock after arriving back at home late that Christmas Eve after church in 1988. I lived in a community house with three other young adults and our landlord, an elderly lady from our church, who had all left to celebrate Christmas with their families that morning.
I was supposed to be alone but the house was all lit up with Christmas lights, there was a tree decorated in the living room with gifts for me underneath it, and even a wonderful Christmas meal waiting in the oven! I sat on the sofa and wept with joy - I had tried to forget Christmas but Christmas had not forgotten me!
JOY: Joy and Happiness are not the same. It may be that Christmas is a Joyless season for many because we confuse the two. One is a ‘feeling’ based on circumstances, a fleeting emotion, that changes as life events around us change. The other is a deep seated confidence and sense of well being founded in the character, the Love, and promise of a loving, gracious, and merciful God.
On my first Christmas Eve as a new Christian in 1988, a couple of truths became real to me about Joy. The ‘Great Joy’ promised by the angels to those shepherds in Bethlehem was not meant to be a temporary or fleeting feeling of happiness, but the unshakable and unchanging foundation on which to build their faith and lives.
JESUS: This real and lasting Joy finds its source in Jesus. He is the
expression of God’s love for us and the evidence that God is for
us and not against us.
As the shepherds and wise men discovered, and as the angels
promised, real and lasting Joy is found only in the wonderful gift
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that
whoever believes in Him should not die but have eternal life” Jn 3:16.
OTHERS: This Joy is meant to be expressed and shared with others,
not kept to ourselves. After the shepherds visited the baby Jesus we
are told that they left the stable “Praising God and rejoicing” and the
told everyone they met about what they had witnessed that night.
Joy like this cannot be kept to oneself. It is infectious and contagious and we are driven to share it with others…to pass it on!
YOU: But this Joy needs a place to germinate, to grow. It is experienced by you in your heart. There, like a seed in good soil, it puts down roots, grows, and bears fruit. It is the Christian’s fuel for life, our hope as we face uncertain and difficult times, the element of our faith that draws others to encounter Christ and experience this ‘Great Joy’ for themselves.
My prayer for you as Christmas approaches and we light the third candle of Advent, the candle of Joy, is that you would discover the depths and power of this Joy - birthed by God into our world, and made alive by His Spirit who dwells within us. And may you feel compelled to pass this Joy on to someone else, to share it with others.
“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious Joy,” 1Peter 1:8.