Re-claim your joy
If the thought of Christmas leaves you feeling more jaded than joyful, Michele Morrison suggests taking some time to be alone with Jesus and to rediscover the heart of Christmas
Joy - like peace - is one of Christmas' buzz words, but for many, the joy is reduced to a contented sigh when the celebrations are over. Harassed by the pressures of seasonal expectations - often self-imposed - we serve the physical and neglect the spiritual, presuming to draw on a reservoir of quiet times spent with God. But it doesn't work like that. Without regular times with God, the smile falters and the laughter edges towards hysteria as tiredness takes over.
The tragic irony is that this is our celebration, yet we have allowed the world to impose its criteria on how we do it. We are celebrating the birth of the Saviour of the world, who came so that we might have life to the full (John 10:10) - which by any definition must include a healthy dollop of joy.
We Christians should stand out at Christmas, not because we party harder than anyone else, but because we party differently, radiant with a joy which touches the empty hearts of so many lost souls. But somehow we have got sucked into a cycle of sentimental tosh about babies and mangers, celebrated with glitter, gluttony, and greed.
So just for a few moments, let's get back to basics. The real message of Christmas is found in one of the names of Jesus. Immanuel. God with us. God in us, saving us from sin and death.
God in us. Slow down. Read that again. God in us. How can such a concept fail to cause an explosion of joy in our hearts?
Well, we've heard it all before. We know the gospel. We are tired, and we are busy. Too busy to sit with Jesus. So rather than our lives radiating joy, we often struggle through Christmas like everybody else, as if we are wading through Christmas cake batter.
Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5). As a fruit, it is not something we can manufacture, like a GM tomato. It grows in us as we abide in Jesus. Live in him, make yourself at home in him, as the Message puts it (John 15). Now that takes determination and practice.
Let's practice now. Instead of your spending time reading my thoughts, let's use the time you've set aside to read this article, by hearing Jesus' voice ourselves. Come with me as we meditate on Jesus.
Make yourself comfortable. Slow down your breathing. In - out. Pause. In - out. Pause. Je - sus. Pause. Je - sus. Pause. Feel the rhythm. Relax. Do this for a few minutes, picturing Jesus in your mind. Close your eyes.
Now hold out your arms and visualise the responsibilities you are carrying every day: Job. Home. Children. Parents. Spouse. Other. Now, pile on the extras which come at Christmas: Gift-buying. Food-shopping. Decorating. Cards. Baking. Parties. Church services. Visiting. Your arms are beginning to shake with the strain of the load. Your mind is tired, your heart is sore.
Still breathing slowly, rhythmically? In - out. Pause. In - out. Pause. Je - sus. Pause. Je - sus. Pause.
Hear the noises around you. Identify them one by one. Traffic. Radios. Voices. Dogs barking. Sirens. Telephones. Thank God for them, the sounds of life. Offer them to him and let them go.
Keep breathing. Je - sus. Pause. Je - sus. Pause.
Maybe the burden you bear is a loneliness that is acute at this time of year. Maybe the sound that intrudes on your consciousness is the sound of silence. Maybe you really are alone, or maybe it's your perception as you see gregarious neighbours and colleagues, or maybe you are the only believer in your family and others mock or tease. Give your loneliness to God. Lower it gently to the feet of Jesus. Let it go.
Je - sus. Pause. Je - sus. Pause.
It may take some time to let all this go. Don't give way to impatience. Picture yourself hooked up to Jesus like a computer to a memory stick. Download all the burdens, all the anxieties, all the frustrations, all the loneliness. Then let him wipe your hard drive clean, clear your memory. Let him take it away. Let his tender hands draw you close. Feel his warm embrace. Hear him speaking to you . . .
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). Read that again. Hear his voice, gentle and kind, full of love and compassion. Relax your muscles. Let the tension drain away. Drop your arms. Give him your load, all of it. Let it go. "Cast all your anxiety on Jesus, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).
Sink down onto the floor, by the feet of Jesus. Hear him speak again. "My daughter, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed" (Luke 10:41).
Je - sus. Pause. Je - sus. Pause. Let his name resonate throughout your being. Jesus. Name above all Names. He says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me" (John 14:1). "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).
"Remain in me, and I will remain in you . . .You can't bear fruit unless you remain in me" (John 15:4). You won't have joy unless you remain in him. "Remain in my love, obey my commands . . . remain in my love . . . my joy will be in you . . .your joy will be complete" (John 15:9 - 11).
Remain. Abide. Rest.
Jesus. Son of God. Holy. Son of Man. Anointed. Son of David. Lamb of God. Son of Righteousness. Prince of Peace. Light of the World. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. Messiah.
My Jesus. My Saviour. My Jesus.
Stay at his feet. Ask him to fill you again with his Holy Spirit. "He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 3:17).
Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit. Linger. Feel his closeness. Focus on Jesus.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Come, Lord Jesus.
"Rejoice in the Lord always . . .Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near" (Philippians 4:4-5).
Je - sus. Je - sus.
Now stand up, beside Jesus. Take his hand. He smiles at you, loving, gentle, a twinkle in his eye. His smile broadens; his mouth opens - he laughs! Hear him laugh! It's infectious, delightful - you laugh, too. Where you were heavy and bowed down, now you feel a lightness deep inside. You are no longer alone. Everything you do, you do with him. You do for him. What a joy to celebrate his birthday!
"Remain in me," he whispers.
"Stay with me," you plead.
"I will never leave you," he promises.
Your joy is complete.
Live the good news this Christmas, as the good news lives in you. Share the gospel: if necessary, use words. (St Francis of Assisi).