Christmas Devotional

Advent: You Have Permission to Be Happy Four Keys to Unlocking Joy at Christmas

Somehow, Christmas seems to dredge up all the unChristmasness in the world. All the sadness. All the angst. All the heartache. Christmas season is a melancholy magnet.

Over the past month, I’ve seen more articles floating around about depression and anxiety than any other time of the year.

Articles with titles like, “How to be happy at Christmas.”

Or, “How to comfort sad people at Christmas.”

Or, “When the holidays hurt.”

You get the point. People are sad. Maybe you’re sad. If so, I’m glad you’re reading this.

When you’re sad, you’re probably sadder at Christmastime, when everybody else seems so merry. Decorating their trees. Baking their cookies. Drinking their eggnog (side note: yuck). And with all that merry-making happening everywhere you turn, it seems like Christmas doesn’t leave room for your reality.

For the record, I don’t believe it’s Christmas that makes people sad. It’s just the season when everyone expects us to not be sad, which causes our sadness to level up.

If I’ve gone through a heart wrenching year, or if lost someone I love during this season in the past, a trite “Merry Christmas!” isn’t going to do much more than drive me further into a joyless stupor.

It may be Christmas, but I’m still lonely. It may be Christmas, but I’m still broken-hearted. It may be Christmas, but…you fill in the blank.

The question is legitimate. Am I allowed to be anything other than merry and bright at Christmastime?

Answer: yes. Yes, you are.

Christmas isn’t dodging your depression, looking for a way around addressing it. When Jesus was born, he stepped right into the middle of your melancholy.

In fact, God does his best work when our merriment and brightness are at their lowest. At Christmas, he is inviting you to bring all of who you are and everything you have to the mangy little manger where his Son is waiting to take it all on his shoulders.

All the sadness. All the pain. All the despair. He sees it, and he’ll take it.

Christmas isn’t meant to suppress the truth about our lives. It’s not meant to be a “Let’s pretend we’re happier and more emotionally (and financially) stable than we really are for a few weeks” kind of season. Christmas is meant to draw us into the story of a God who sent his only son into our sad and emotionally (and financially) unstable world to say, “I have beheld your sadness. Now, you behold my joy.”

Christmas isn’t dodging your depression, looking for a way around addressing it. When Jesus was born, he stepped right into the middle of your melancholy. Your disappointment. Your loneliness. Your fear. Your panic.

Wherever you’re at on this spectrum, God is right there in it with you. He gives you full permission to grieve and search and doubt. But in return, he asks that you give him full permission to comfort, encourage, and fill your empty spaces with joy.

You give him what you have, and he’ll give you what he has. This exchange—which happens through prayer, Bible study, worship, and the encouragement of other Christ-followers—will yield its fruit in time. Even Christmastime.

Here are a few things that I believe can help us all take a deep breath and experience the joy of Christmas.

Four Keys to Unlocking Joy at Christmas

1. Calibrate your expectations

Remember, the Christmas season is not the savior—Jesus is. Don’t expect the season to be filled with joy if you don’t fill it with Jesus. Take time every day let him pour a little bit of joy into your cup. (Psalm 16:11)

2. Release the hostages

Don’t hold yourself hostage to the emotional state you’ve been in. Jesus already paid your ransom. And don’t hold God hostage to the sadness you’ve experienced during past Christmases. He wants to restore your joy! (Psalm 51:12)

3. Seek YOUR joy

What brings another person joy isn’t necessarily the key to unlocking yours. Trust that God has a special gift of joy set aside for you in this season, and ask him incessantly to give it to you. He’ll give you what’s yours it’ll fit snugly around your longing heart. (John 16:24)

4. Expand the season

Jesus doesn’t care what’s on the calendar. He is Immanuel all year long. Don’t let a tough Christmas season keep you from pursuing joy after the holidays. Every day is an opportunity to give God a little bit of your sadness and receive a little bit of his joy in return. (John 16:20)

We don’t have to go through the motions as if we’re okay when we’re not. When we are down, we don’t have to climb into a hole and shun the Christmas season.

Actually, it means we should embrace it all the more. Precisely because we are sad. Because we are lonely. Because we need healing.

Because that’s the stuff that Jesus was pleased to embrace about us.

Did this essay resonate with you? Share your thoughts!

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