Summary: During the Christmas season, many of our "hardships" are magnified, and it is difficult to experience "Christmas joy." But what we celebrate at Christmas is the Son of God who came among us and made for us a "high-way" that cuts through the struggles and
There is something that has been bothering me all week, and I want to share it with you this morning. I have to make a confession. On Monday of this week, as I was sitting in my office working on the Luke Bible Study, the phone rang. When I answered the phone, a woman on the other end of the line asked if we did any kind of assistance for Christmas. Now, one of the things about being a church is that people are calling the church all the time needing help. And the simple fact of the matter is that it is impossible to help every single person that calls. With that in mind, I asked the woman what kind of assistance she needed. In a now quavering voice, the woman explained that she was a single mother trying to “do” Christmas for her children. She told me that she had called the police department, but because she lives outside the city limits, she does not qualify. I listened to the woman, keeping in mind Grace’s commitment to the Angel Tree families. When she was done, I tried as gently as possible to tell her that we were already committed to helping several families for Christmas and our little church just isn’t in a position to take on any more at this time. On the other end of the phone, I heard the woman begin to cry, and then she hung up.
It’s been a long time since I’ve wished I could take something back. But I’ve wished all week I could take that phone call back. I’ve wished over and over and over again that I hadn’t been so concerned with what we were already doing that I forgot what is possible for a Christian community to do when someone is in need. Our church could have helped that family. Really, as I think about it, Ken and I could have helped that family. I wish that I had answered her differently, we would have found a way to make it work; I know we would have. But now it’s too late. I don’t know the woman’s name, much less her phone number. There is no way I can undo that sad mistake I made on Monday.
As I mentioned, I’ve thought a lot about that phone call this week. At first, all I thought about was how sad it is that I turned that woman away. But then I started thinking about how disappointing it is that she, in such a sad state, had to call churches to begin with. It is an extremely unfortunate sign of the times. If our culture wasn’t so off-track about what Christmas is about, that woman never would have been so upset about having difficulties providing “Christmas” for her children. But she knows that if there aren’t toys under the tree for her children this Christmas, it will be devastating. She knows that her children will return to school after break only to be shown all the latest and greatest toys and gadgets that their friends got for Christmas. Then the kids will be sad, and upset, and angry that they didn’t get the same awesome toys as their friends. And the kids will feel resentment toward their mother who didn’t give them a “Christmas” as great as their friends had. So the mother cries. All because when it comes to Christmas, we are looking for joy in all the wrong places.
We’ve come to measure Christmas joy according to how high the stack of gifts is under the tree. Yet, the forced expectations of joy at this time of year often highlight what is wrong or missing in people’s lives, as it has with the young woman who called this church on Monday. She saw a stark contrast between the life of her family and the “cultural norm,” and as a result she felt inadequate, isolated and depressed. Whether we acknowledge it or not, such isolation and depression is widely felt at this time of year, for a lot of different reasons. Some people, like the mother, are upset because they are unable to provide “Christmas” for their family. There are those who each holiday miss their loved ones: spouses, or children, or parents who are no longer living. Then there are some whose loved ones are somewhere far away, perhaps serving in the military overseas. Maybe some feel an isolation of living in a new town with no friends or acquaintances, and no one to go home to on Christmas day; not even friends with which to have a Christmas gathering. Indeed, it is difficult to show Christmas joy under such circumstances as these.
But the “Christmas joy” we expect to see from all people at this time of year is not real joy. Joy is not a surface-level happy; it is deeply seated in one’s character. You see, true joy may not always manifest itself in smiles and laughter, but rather in grace and assurance. Real joy might be described as knowing that something better exists, and holding onto that which is better. If we remember that Christmas is about God’s moment of incarnation, taking the flesh and living among us, might we not feel joy even when there are no presents under the tree? When we remember that because God in Christ Jesus came on Christmas day, our lives are filled with his love, might we not know joy even in the midst of our longing for loved ones? When we remember that Christmas is about Jesus Christ coming to walk beside us, might we not know joy even when we sit alone during the Christmas season?