Christmas isn’t all happy. Trying to make it that way actually diminishes our enjoyment and meaning of this sacred season.

Consider the first Christmas. The backdrop is that God’s people go four centuries without hearing a word from God. When God finally speaks, Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father) refuses to believe it and is struck dumb. Then when God speaks to the young virgin Mary she does believe and is divinely impregnated, but nobody believes her story and so she is branded with the Scarlet A.

Eventually, Joseph hears from God and supports Mary. Then when she’s heavy with child they have to travel eighty miles by donkey to Bethlehem to pay taxes they can’t afford to Rome. Far from home, Mary goes into labor and there’s no room in any of the Inn’s for her so she has to have her baby in a cave full of noisy, messy animals.

Eight days later Mary is holding her precious newborn in the temple and is told, “A sword will pierce your heart!” Later the ruthless King Herod and his armies are on the hunt to kill the baby Jesus and so Joseph flees with his son and wife by night to Egypt.

That doesn’t sound like “Silent night, holy night!” That doesn’t sound like “All is calm, all is bright, round yon virgin, mother and child… Sleep in heavenly peace.” That doesn’t sound like a happy Christmas!

No doubt there were special moments in the first Christmas, marvelous moments, like when the shepherds visited the holy family and told about the visit of the angels and the wonderful things they said about Jesus. “Mary pondered and treasured up these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

The heavenly peace and blessing of the first Christmas came to those who went through all the conflict, danger, and grief under the wing of the Lord. The blessing wasn’t in their circumstances but in the kingdom of God. If they’d expected everything to be all nice and happy they wouldn’t have experienced God’s blessing.

No doubt your Christmas season, like mine, includes stress and disappointment and perhaps conflict, pain, or loss. It’s important for us to be honest about our life experiences and emotions, to talk with a safe person about how we really feel and to seek God’s comfort in our friend’s listening ear and embrace.

A happy Christmas is not in pretending, it’s in trusting God and rejoicing in his goodness to us in the midst of the trials of life. But it is happiness — it’s not a religious joy. Joy without abundant happiness is not real joy. Happy joy is a pervasive sense of well-being from God that permeates our personality and pulsates from our body to the people around us.

May God give you and your loved ones a happy Christmas!

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These Soul Shepherding Advent resources will foster a joyful appreciation of the coming of Christ Jesus!

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