By Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com
We often look forward to the Christmas season as a joyful time. After all, it’s the time when we come together with family and friends to celebrate the greatest gift of all: Jesus, the world’s Savior. However, too often, Christmas can be a dark time that’s full of challenges. We may be struggling with stress and sadness in the middle of the festive Christmas atmosphere. The pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations, family conflicts, grief, stressful schedules, and financial hardships can all cast a dark shadow over the Christmas holiday season. Despite these challenges, we can still find joy during the Christmas season. That’s because joy is possible in any kind of circumstance. We don’t need to experience happy circumstances to enjoy Christmas, because joy is much greater than happiness. While happiness depends on positive circumstances, joy is an inner strength that comes from connecting with God’s presence. So, don’t let dark situations steal the joy God wants you to experience this Christmas.
Here are five ways to have joy when Christmas is a dark time:
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Tero Vesalainen
1. Simplify Christmas activities to focus on what matters most.
One of the biggest sources of stress during the Christmas season is the pressure to do it all. We often find ourselves rushing from one activity to another, overextending ourselves both financially and emotionally. But we can change how we manage our time so we can focus on what matters most at Christmas: connecting with God. The true essence of Christmas is that Jesus is God with us. That reality can cause us great joy, as Luke 2:10 points out: “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.’” We can experience the joy of that without having to buy extravagant gifts, put up elaborate decorations, or jampack our social calendar. A simple Christmas celebration can often be the most meaningful. By simplifying our activities and focusing on the joy of God’s presence with us, we can find true fulfillment at Christmas. Prioritizing prayer and meditation this Christmas can lead us to joy as we communicate regularly with God. We can free up time to devote to prayer and meditation every day and night during the Christmas season. The more we seek God, the more we’ll be able to find him. God promises us in Jeremiah 29:11-13: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’” We can also prioritize meaningful moments with our loved ones, choosing only activities that we really enjoy together, and letting the rest go. We don’t need to feel guilty about stopping traditions that we don’t actually enjoy anymore. Neither do we need to hesitate to start new Christmas traditions with our loved ones this year. We are free to celebrate Christmas in whatever ways are most helpful for us to connect with God and each other in love.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/evgenyatamanenko
2. Let Christmas lights highlight hope.
Christmas lights brighten the darkness spiritually as well as physically. They illuminate the reality that we can be joyful in hope whenever we connect with God. Amid the glittering Christmas lights, take time to reflect on Jesus as the Light of the World. He is the source of hope and the one who dispels the darkness in our lives. Jesus tells us in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” When we’re struggling with dark circumstances this Christmas, we can reach out for help from Jesus, who will serve as our advocate and answer our prayers. We can also enlighten any type of dark situation by seeking wisdom for how to manage it well, through God’s Word. Psalm 119:105 declares: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” By regularly reading and meditating on the Bible, we can find our way forward in any situation, because the truths it contains will lead us. We can also ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us as we read God’s Word. Hebrews 4:12 points out: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” We can find the hope we need by immersing ourselves in God’s promises and every other part of the Bible. Finally, Christmas lights can help us find hope by encouraging us to pursue wonder that reveals glimpses of God’s work in our lives. Awe-inspiring moments like enjoying Christmas lights can lift our perspective beyond our circumstances to God. Then we can notice God’s light with us, even as we walk through darkness. So, during dark times, let’s enjoy radiant Christmas lights, and let their brilliance remind us that God offers us real hope.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/MinoruM
3. Enjoy Christmas music.
Christmas carols can give us comfort and inspiration during the holidays. The familiar melodies and uplifting messages of Christmas music lift our spirits and remind us of God’s love for us. Christmas music often evokes memories of joyful times from our past. Hearing these familiar songs can transport us back to those moments and fill us with warm nostalgia. As we listen to the stories of love, peace, and goodwill in Christmas carols, we’re reminded that even in difficult times, God offers us joy. The Bible encourages us to celebrate and praise God through music. Psalm 98:4 urges us: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music,” while Psalm 100:1-2 exhorts us: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” That can seem quite challenging when we’re feeling stressed and sad during Christmas. However, if we choose to play and sing along to Christmas carols even when we don’t feel like it, we’ll see that experiencing the music can lighten our mood and point us toward God. Music is such a powerful universal language that we can even discover moments of transcendence while enjoying it. Also, singing Christmas carols with other people can be fun, so we can join a Christmas choir at our church for extra enjoyment. We can also create a playlist of our favorite Christmas songs and listen to it whenever we need a joy boost. There are also many opportunities to enjoy Christmas music live through Christmas concerts.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/RamilF
4. Connect with a supportive community of believers.
During dark times, it’s crucial to connect with a supportive Christian community. Share your burdens with fellow believers and allow them to encourage you, pray for you, and help meet your practical needs. Let your church, your friends, and trusted family members know specific ways they can help you. Don’t hesitate to reach out. Galatians 6:2 assures us that we should, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” We all go through seasons when we need to help each other. There will be times for both giving and receiving. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, the Bible also urges us to encourage each other: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” One key way we can do so is by sharing joyful experiences together. So, let’s go ahead and say “yes” when our brothers and sisters in Christ invite us to do something enjoyable this Christmas. Maybe it’s going to a holiday event like a live Nativity, a concert, or a light show. Maybe it’s eating Christmas cookies and drinking eggnog together. When an activity sparks joy, we can join our fellow believers to enjoy it.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/SeventyFour
5. Serve other people.
One of the most surprising ways to experience joy during dark times is to reach out with intentional kindness to others who are also going through dark times. While it may seem like we won’t have the energy to serve others when we’re struggling ourselves, service can actually energize us and help us find more joy. By serving other people who are struggling in some way – either in the same way we are, or in some other way – we can experience joy as God’s love flows through us into their lives. The Bible points out in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 that God will give us opportunities to comfort others as God has comforted us: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” We can also draw closer to God, who is the ultimate source of joy, when we serve others. Hebrews 13:16 encourages us: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” The more we seek to please God, the more we can notice and appreciate God’s love flowing through our lives and leading us to joy.
When Christmas is a dark time, we don’t need to force ourselves to try to feel happy. But we don’t need to miss out on joy, either. We can be honest with God, who will reach out to us in any circumstances and help us find joy with him. By simplifying our activities, enjoying Christmas lights and music, connecting with a supportive community, and serving other people who are struggling, we can move closer to God – the source of true hope and joy. The real meaning of Christmas is that God is with us. That reality is all we need to have a joyful Christmas!
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez