by Nicole Whitacre
What would make you happy this Christmas?
What if I told you that you won a contest and someone was going to do all your holiday cooking, cleaning, decorating, shopping and wrapping? What if I promised you would get the present of your dreams (like that car with the bow on top in the commercial)? Or what if I predicted that family rifts would be mended, or that this year’s Christmas memories would be the best ever?
The fact is, all these things (if they actually happened) might bring us a measure of temporary happiness. But they wouldn’t sustain us through a year’s worth of hardship and trouble. We know this. Yet every year, we place a losing bet on the world to supply a truly joyful holiday season.
But what if I told you that you could have a joyful Christmas, guaranteed? And what’s more, that you could experience that joy year-round? And what if I wasn’t kidding this time?
This week we’re going to offer five keys to joy this holiday season. No, we aren’t going to do your Christmas shopping for you. But we hope these thoughts will serve you more than that.
The first key to a joyful Christmas? Contemplate the incarnation.
Consider the staggeringly glorious news that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). Ponder this truth every day for the next twenty-two days, and you won’t be disappointed the day after Christmas.
Here are two simple ways to contemplate the wonder of God become man this season:
Read Chapter Five, “God Incarnate” from JI Packer's classic Knowing God. I’ve taken to reading this chapter every Christmas, and it never fails to help redirect my gaze from worldly pleasures to eternal truth. As Dr. Packer writes:
“The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.”
Purchase and listen to the Sovereign Grace Christmas album, Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man. While not traditional Christmas tunes, these beautiful songs are full of the wonderful truths of the incarnation:
God has sent His greatest treasure
Shown His love in greatest measure
Sending Christ to bleed and suffer
Purchasing our joy forever
Let the earth rejoice!
Instead of looking to the world to give us joy this Christmas, let’s focus on the one who came to earth and bore our sins, purchasing our joy forever!
The second key is to consistently practice the spiritual disciplines.
Christmas time is busy and there is always lots to do. It can be a
temptation to let a few things slide. You know the thoughts: "Things
will settle down after the holidays. I'll get back to it then." Often
times, the spiritual disciplines can be the first to go.
We usually don't feel the immediate effect of skipping a few
devotional times here and there. But, what happens if we don't get our
presents wrapped in time or the cookies made before the big meal? That
would be a disaster!
Ah, but the neglect of the spiritual disciplines will have greater consequences. Over time, our heart will begin to grow cold to the things of the Lord. And no amount of Christmas cheer will provide the fix.
But if we give priority to our time in God's Word and to prayer, we will find renewed joy each morning. Joy that sticks in the midst of Christmas craziness. For as the Psalmist says:
"The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart...they are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb." Psalm 19:8,10
So as things get busy, let's make sure to keep the spiritual disciplines at the top of our Christmas to do list, and experience true holiday cheer.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
It’s that “most wonderful time of the year!” I try to start enjoying the festivities of Christmas as early as I possibly can. Christmas music began playing in our home even before Thanksgiving (My mom is a firm believer in waiting until the day after Thanksgiving, but I personally like to enjoy the Christmas holiday as long as possible!). It’s only the 5th of December, but we’ve already purchased and decorated our tree, hung the stockings, and bought presents for the kiddos. This week we’ll make cookies, attend Christmas parties, and take a drive to see the neighborhood Christmas lights.
These are all blessings from the Lord to enjoy.
Funny though, how quickly these Christmas traditions become all about me. And selfishness (seeking to satisfy myself with the things of this world) is a one-way ticket to a lack of joy.
That’s why the third key to Christmas joy (and fighting worldliness) is to serve and give to others.
After all, isn’t this season ultimately about the Savior who came to seek and save the lost? Isn’t it supposed to—in addition to reminding me to be grateful for the gospel—also remind me to follow my Lord’s example and sacrifice for and serve others?
JI Packer, in his chapter on the incarnation Nicole mentioned the other day, exhorts me to put aside my selfish tendencies:
“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor--spending and being spent--to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others---and not just their own friends--in whatever way there seems need.”
I would like this Christmas season to be characterized by a renewed desire to be outwardly focused instead of selfish. JI Packer continues:
“If God in mercy revives us, one of the things he will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives. If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. 'You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty became rich' (2 Cor. 8:9).”
So will you join me in praying that God would work more of His spirit in our hearts? Then let's take time to look around. Who can we serve? Who in our family can we bless? Who in our church can we sacrifice for? How can we care and give to those in need this holiday season?
Let’s enjoy the festivities, but not stop there—let’s chase after the pure joy of serving others this Christmas!
Serving with communion is the fourth key to joy. All too often, I spend time with the Lord, reading His Word and praying, but then I rush into my day, trying to serve others, but neglect to continue to commune with God.
And soon my joy dissipates.
You know what it is like. We can be busy doing all the shopping, wrapping, decorating and baking that make for a happy Christmas, but we can be anxious, overwhelmed and irritated in the process. We’re still focused on worldliness instead of godliness.
As Kristin exhorted us yesterday, serving is a vital to fighting selfishness and holding on to joy this holiday season. But if we try to serve without relying on God’s strength, without meditating on His Word, without offering up prayers to Him, we’ll still be lacking joy.
Think of Martha in the Bible. I don’t need to tell you her story again (Luke 10:38-42). But needless to say we can all turn into Marthas around Christmastime. All service and no joy. Our Lord did not rebuke Martha for serving. He rebuked her for failing to choose the best thing (as her sister Mary had done) and sit as His feet and listen to Him.
As JI Packer (we’re using him a lot this week!) has observed: “Meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice.”
Martha certainly experienced the consequences of not communing with the Savior. But we don’t have to “suffer grievously” this holiday season. We don’t even have to be anxious or overwhelmed. By meditating on God’s Word throughout the day, joy can be ours, even amidst the chaos.
One practice that has helped me to meditate and pray is to write one verse or quote from my devotions on a 3x5 card and carry it around with me throughout the day. This way, God’s grace and truth is with me right at the moments when I need it most.
You may have a method that works better for you. But whatever your practice: by meditating on God’s Word throughout the day, we can experience joy that will last from morning coffee till we lay our heads on the pillow at night.
As we’ve been saying all week long, Christmas is full of wonderful gifts. And not just the ones residing underneath the tree. We experience gifts of family and friends. Gifts of food and fellowship. As my dad would say, “We are rich!”
And yet, I can sometimes fly through this season, taking for granted all that I have been given. This worldly mentality can rob me of joy if I fail to recognize and appreciate every good gift as coming straight from my heavenly Father (James 1:17). This leads me to our fifth and final key to joy this Christmas: “turn every gift into an opportunity to glorify and adore God.”
Each year at the outset of vacation, my dad is faithful to remind us to transfer glory to God for His many gifts. He reads us the following quote from C.S. Lewis:
“Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility….I have tried…to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different…Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun….If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour.” (as quoted in, When I Don’t Desire God, by John Piper)
This discipline is worth some labor. If, when we receive a gift, we stop and allow our minds to “run back up the sunbeam to the sun,” if we adore the One from whom all gifts come, we will find our joy multiplied a hundred fold.