The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
It’s Christmas again. My tree is decorated, angel already about to tumble off the top, and laptop exhausted from online purchases. I’ve been playing Christmas music on the radio and ahhh-ing over some spectacular light displays. Santa’s gift to me this year is a saw and nail gun so I can do some home projects. We’ve had a lovely Christmas luncheon at Mom’s nursing home, and a lovely time chasing Ellie around the yard with a dead mouse in her mouth. So … not quite a Hallmark movie, but it’s going to be a good Christmas in so many ways. And I’m thankful for that.
Of course, the true celebration centers around Jesus. We honor the birth of a halo-ringed innocent child, pure and mild. The beautiful, serene, stained-glass Jesus. Last Sunday, I stood in our church service singing “Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices, O night divine, O night when Christ was born.” And I was amazed all over again at the majesty and perfection of our God come to earth. Emmanuel. Truly, it makes me want to fall to my knees and worship Him.
But, so often, there’s hidden stuff underneath. You know – worries, fears, loneliness. Stuff like that. And we push it down and celebrate. We gloss over, singing about joy and gladness. We go to parties and exchange gifts and take pictures and call it happy.
This year I’ve been painfully aware of several friends who are facing their first Christmas without a very dear loved one. And I know parents who have spent wearying hours in the hospital praying for their precious child. I have friends who are grieving fresh losses of young sons, gone way too soon with no warning. There are seniors who are wondering how long they can hold onto their independence. Shattered families. Sick folks. Gaping, raw-edged heart-holes. And victims of the mind-thief called Dementia. Insert yours here. Or pick two or three of the above and roll it into one overwhelmed package. Not the packages we wanted to receive this Christmas.
And there are times that we can’t just reach into our emotional closet and pull out some joy to wear. Not genuine joy. Joy is not the ignoring of circumstances and pretending to be happy.
Joy is not a smiley-face band-aid. It can’t fix the breakers of grief, the buried failure, the seeping fear, the long tick of the lonely hours, the hole in your heart that won’t close. There isn’t a band-aid that reaches down and instantly closes the deep wounds.
And maybe there’s someone who is feeling, deep down, that a good person, a strong Christian should feel joy anyway, and wonders why they can’t quite muster it.
I’ll say it first then – I’m not always able to dress up my heart in a bright joy dress. A few years ago, I was right smack in the middle of divorce, illness, uncertainty, my Mom’s disabling dementia. It felt like total loss. Complete failure.
I had one thing left, though.
You know that halo-ringed, stained-glass, perfect Jesus?
He didn’t come to be clean and detached and untouchable.
He came to breathe our air and drag his toe in our dirt. To eat in our homes. To touch our diseases. To embrace us in our rags. To wash our filthy feet.
He came with no impressive appearance or worldly attractiveness. He came to be hated, rejected, and misunderstood. To mingle with the animals. To work with His hands. To know sickness and look death square in the face. All too familiar with suffering and affliction. Lumped in with the wicked. Arrested, tortured, murdered.
And Emmanuel – God with us – meant so much more than we could have imagined.
This is the Jesus that came and stayed by my side in my darkest time. Every bit a King, Master, and Maker. And yet somehow … humble, patient, close, compassionate. No hurry.
This is the Jesus who understands what you’re going through and will patiently sit with you in your time of death, depression, or divorce. Gentle. Meek. The God who tore open the heavens to come down to save you. To heal the sick, free the captives, bring joy to the grieving, and save those who acknowledge they need salvation. He came for this.
Not to pour you into a mold of perfection, but to pour His love out all over you.
A favorite verse of mine: “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:11-12)
Just think: His light shatters your darkness.
And this: “But He was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.” (Isaiah 53:5)
His wounds are your healing. His freely-given gift to you.
Is it possible that our wounds could also become gifts someday? With no band-aid needed to hide them?
It is hard to see right now, I know. But could our darkness lead to light, could our weeping lead to joy? Could His wounds heal us? Can His strength mingle with our weakness to make us whole?
“Joy sometimes needs pain to give it birth.” (Streams in the Desert)
And sometimes the people living in the land of deep darkness are those most ready to see the great light.
So let me propose that real joy is something more than a happy attitude, an ignoring of difficulties, a cheery exterior. (Cue The Grinch: “Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”)
Joy IS a choice. But not always a snap-your-fingers and put-on-a-smile choice. Not always a naive happiness. Joy comes from a source that we choose and fill up with over time. A source that sustains us in the darkest of times, confident that light is somewhere ahead. It overcomes any circumstance, outlasts any death. Joy comes from knowing Him and living in that knowledge.
It is a heart that chooses and receives the gift of Jesus.
George Matheson, Scottish minister and author, lost his fiancée at a young age because she learned he was becoming blind. Despite George’s personal darkness, he would write these powerful words about his Lord, “My love has come to Him in His humiliation. My faith has found Him in His lowliness. My heart has recognized His majesty through His mean disguise, and I know at last that I desire not the gift but the Giver. When I can stand in His house by night I have accepted Him for Himself alone.”
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
And He is the source of joy.
“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)