Finding Joy in Advent

Joy. That somewhat illusive feeling we all want during the holidays. We look for it in the baking aisle of the grocery store. We hunt for it in the Christmas cards we send. We search for it in the shops as we purchase the perfect gifts for those we love. We pursue it in holiday greetings received.

We long to feel the increase of Joy. It seems though the more we pursue it, the more we chase it down it, the more it dances just out of our scope of vision.

Each year we promise ourselves and others that this year will be different. Our holiday will be different. We will be more at peace, we’ll get started early, we’ll be less stressed. We’ll be all of these just as soon as our holiday is picture perfect.

The more we try to make everything Pinterest perfect, the harder we endeavor to ensure everything looks like a magazine spread, the more our stress level rises and joy seems to fly out the window. We snap at our family, we walk over our friends. Our happiness quotient is reduced while our joy all but seems to disappear.

We complain to our friends that we’ve lost our joy and ask them to pray that we can find it again. We know just what we need to do to, it’s what we’ve always been told. From our earliest days, we’ve heard, Joy means Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.

So we should feel the most joy at Christmas, right? It’s all about Jesus, and we spend an great amount of time and an even more exorbitant time and energy, to say nothing of money, on others. So joy should be in super abundance.

But it’s not.

Dear sweet reader, please know our joy does not disappear with the disappointments in the hard parts of the holidays. Our strongholds so often trip us up, yank us around this time of year. Expectations are through the roof, emotions are high, hurts run deep.

Every little thing threatens our carefully crafted dens of happiness, and topples joy. Joy dies in heaps of crumbled dreams and ashes. What is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, full of joy and good cheer, is anything but.

Unless good cheer is found in tears that run rivers down our cheeks. It’s in the gaping wounds of a heart that loves. If it’s found in the hurts from stronghold bumped and body-slammed.

But it’s not. We all know that. We all know Joy does not depend on our circumstances, that’s happiness. But how can we feel joy when life hurts and the tears flow? Is there joy to be found in the depths of our darkest despair? Those dark nights of our soul? When we hurt and our cries seem to hit a silent heaven when what we think we need is a silent night, not a silent Savior.

We sing “the Joy of the Lord is our strength” but what does that mean? How is His Joy our strength? We are all so quick to say He is our strength but we are so quick to do and live all in our own.

We wonder why on earth life hurts so much. Life is good. It’s a grand life and then POW! We’re in agony. Someone said something, or didn’t say something and now our life hurts.

He is our strength. His life in us sustains us. He carries us to and through the painful, and pain-filled times. Have you ever noticed the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness to be tempted? We think if life hurts, when we’re tempted we must be the most wicked, evil, vile person.

But what if, just as Jesus was led into the wilderness, we’re being led to and through our times of pain so we can experience and learn to walk in His strength?

In our times of pain, when our strongholds are body-slammed, we focus on ourselves, our hurt, our pain. We wrap it tightly around us like a heavy winter coat hoping to keep out winter’s chill. But it never works.

We are to embrace the pain, but not like that. Not wear it like a suit of armor. Our pain doesn’t protect us from more pain, it merely pushes those arrows in a little deeper.

We are to embrace them, not shun them, but in them open up to the One who can free us from the pain. He can take our frozen feelings, shine the Light of His life in them, speak His peace, His joy into them and we are set free.

Free to live, free to dance in the joy of His strength. We were not ever designed to walk in our strength, our power. We can’t. We aren’t enough. He is.

This Advent, please, trade your robes of sadness and pain for His shining robes of Joy.