Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Do you remember the popular children’s show The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? From his mountain lair, the Grinch observed the people of Whoville happily preparing for Christmas. He decided to go down to their village and steal their joy. Secretly at night he removed food from the pantry, decorations from the walls, and presents from under the trees. Then he waited eagerly for the Christmas dawn to expose their emptiness. Instead, the dawn exposed his emptiness.
Many Grinches threaten to steal our joy and peace at Christmas time. We think we are buying just the right gift for someone, but it receives a cool reception. The rush of the season, long lines, and slow traffic replace our joy with frustration. Some relatives try our patience. After the season passes, unmet expectations dampen our spirit and the holiday blues move in. With the arrival of the New Year, we are relieved the Christmas stress has passed instead of our being refreshed by the promise of Christ.
More than we would like to admit, we allow the craziness of the Christmas season to be the Grinch that comes into our hearts to steal our joy. However, with a new perspective, God can give us a transformed heart so that our circumstances don’t dictate our attitude. The new perspective we need is this:
Into the world
Why would that new perspective benefit us? During the holidays, we often strive to make the season just perfect. We want it to be magical for our kids and acceptable to our relatives. If we’re honest, our striving is often to fill a need in our own hearts with love, approval, acceptance, or satisfaction. The holidays tend to highlight this void. It’s a season of expectation, but we often come up short. In the midst of the parties, gifts, shopping, and activities, something doesn’t meet our expectations, and we feel disappointed, or a little empty.
The heart of the Christmas message can give you a new perspective. In essence, God says to you, “I have stepped into the world to satisfy your soul and bring you joy. That is why I sent Jesus. Circumstances and people may disappoint, but your joy, hope, and expectations can be filled in me.” This is what the Christmas story is all about.
Some Practical Ways to Keep the Joy of Christmas
Let’s look at some practical ways we can keep the Grinch at bay while securing our soul to the promise of Christ.
Inaugurate the season by treating yourself to a CD of Christmas classics, not songs of White Christmas or Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, but great hymns such as Joy to the World or Angels from the Realms of Glory. Ruminate on the rich message from Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. God and sinners are reconciled because Christ, our everlasting Lord was pleased to veil himself in the flesh of man and dwell in our midst. He, the Prince of Peace, the Son of Righteousness, Immanuel, was born that we might be cleansed of sin and clothed in righteousness. Let the joy of the gospel penetrate your soul and flow through you to others. A mind fixed on Christ provides renewed strength and peace for stressful seasons.
Open up the Bible to the Gospel of Luke and read the familiar story with new eyes. Put yourself in the place of various characters. For example, consider the story from Mary’s perspective. What must it have been like to be that young girl receiving a message from God after four hundred years of silence? How would she have felt? What would it be like to face your fiancé and family pregnant? How would you have handled the rejection, misunderstanding, and gossip that Mary surely encountered? Imagine the apprehension of giving birth to your first child far from home or family and placing him in a feeding trough for animals. What can you learn from her faith and trust in God or her commitment to accept the call despite hardship and persecution? How have her circumstances or character mirrored yours as you labor in ministry? Remember Mary’s story as you encounter aggravating people and circumstances over the holidays.
Do you really need to throw that Christmas party in your home, host the school party, bake cookies, decorate like Martha Stewart, send cards, or buy multiple gifts? Prayerfully consider how you might reduce the demands on your schedule. We can expend so much energy celebrating the season that we run out of steam to celebrate Christ. Give yourself permission to decline an invitation, buy rather than bake cookies, or skip the Christmas cards so that you can maintain room in your heart for worship.
Set expectations to match your reality. Life doesn’t turn out perfect and neither does the holiday season. Turkeys burn, grandchildren grumble, relationships at home or church remain strained. As you experience disappointment around you, keep in mind that Christ entered into a broken world to bring healing and peace. Though you can’t change others, ask God to work in your heart so that you can exemplify his love, joy, peace, and patience to the hurting world surrounding you.
Remember, the Grinches are lying in wait for you this Christmas season. Plan now so they don’t catch you by surprise and steal away your joy. Embrace fully the coming of our long-expected Savior and allow him to release you from the bondage of expectations the holiday season brings. Place your joy and hope in him as you allow the magnitude of his birth to penetrate your being and rest assured that those sneaky Grinches can’t crush a heart satisfied in Christ.