I know what it is to struggle for joy in the Christmas season.
I know what it is to feel the dissonance between pain in my own heart and the entire world seeming to be laughing in joy.
It was the week before Thanksgiving, 2012, when my mom drew her last breath. We hadn’t seen it coming, there was no warning, just a new stunned reality. We buried her the day before Thanksgiving and began the most difficult Christmas season of our lives.
I know what it is to be dealing with pain when everyone else is celebrating. I learned in that season of my life that if you’re there – if you’re hurting when you’re supposed to be filled with joy – oh, my dear. You are not alone. There are so many of us.
We went to the Christmas Eve service at our church that year, my sister and my Dad and I. We choked on our tears through most of the service, and bit our lips to hold back the bitter questions we had. The choir sang all of the songs we knew, the songs I used to look up and see my grandmother singing, the songs my mom’s strong alto voice used to support. It seemed too silent without them. Our family had become much too small.
And then came the verse, one of my favorites, with a completely new meaning in my heart that year:
“Sweet hymns of joy, in grateful chorus raise we –
Let all within us praise His holy name…”
Hymns of joy. Yes, they were still there. Sweet hymns of joy, offered from a place of brokenness but with a grateful heart. We mustered up as much gratitude as we could, sitting there in the sixth row. I sang these lines as loud as I could, though my voice was cracking. I determined that these lines would be my anthem that Christmas.
Joy in the midst of darkness is part of what is promised to us as followers of Christ. When our world is turned upside down – or maybe when that same disappointment keeps presenting itself over and over again – it can seem impossible to find joy. The darkness can feel all-encompassing, it can feel like the heaviest of weights.
But during Advent, we remember a time when the people of God cried out for joy. They cried out for freedom. They waited in expectant hope for their Messiah. They prayed and prophesied and believed with all of their hearts that God would make good on this promise – that something better was coming. Emmanuel, God with us, the Word made flesh – something was on its way. A new day was coming.
So this Advent, we remember the same. For those of us in a dark season of our lives, we remember during Advent that God did not ordain that the darkness would last forever. For just as Isaiah prophesied, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.”
Yes, joy has come in the person of Jesus. The character of God, made flesh, here to dwell among us. Joy is here still. And in this second Advent, as we wait in expectant hope for the Resurrection, we long for the fulfillment of perfect joy.
Take heart. Raise your hymns of joy. He has overcome the world.
Is joy easy for you this season? What is it that makes this season difficult for you? Where do you find joy when things are dark for you?
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