With the first slice
of the Thanksgiving turkey, we begin an extended season of celebration
that lasts, at least for the football fans, until the BCS Championship
Game on a Tuesday night in January. Throughout this holiday season, we
will attend Christmas parties, buy gifts, enjoy dinners, light candles,
and send Christmas cards. Good foods will tantalize our appetites. Tasty
eggnog will lighten our hearts and lift our spirits. The stories of another
will be retold to trumpet our victories and solicit empathy for our defeats.
We will remind ourselves that life is good and God has truly blessed us.
But sometime about the middle of January, we will return to the monotony
of life. The doldrums will settle in and the festive cheer of December
will be drowned by the silence of the routine. During the mundane moments
of living, we will wonder why we cannot extend the same feeling of Christmas
joy throughout the year.
Between 4-6%1 of the
US population suffer from a form of post-holiday blues, After all the tinsel,
wreaths, and candles have been returned to storage, a general malaise may
overcome a person. The lack of sunshine and lingering cold contribute to
this season of discouragement. Those who suffer from it probably grimaced
over Paul's words for the Philippians to rejoice. However, painful, Paul's
words summarize the theme of the Christian message. The proclamation of
Good News is an announcement of joy. The angels told the shepherd, "Fear
not for behold, I bring you glad tiding of great joy!" The joy of Christmas
is not a temporary moment of happiness that evaporates the moment the wrapping
paper is trashed and the presents stored on shelves. The joy proclaimed
by the angels and admonished by the apostle should reside in the heart
of every believer.
Joy is also essential
to continuing in the Christian life. Without out it we cannot continue
long through difficult circumstances. We are told in Scripture that our
joy in the Lord strengthens us. The joy of motherhood enables a woman to
endure labor. Children may begin playing a musical instrument in obedience
but will not continue unless they experience joy over the sounds of their
melodies. The Christian life becomes a dull, drudgery without a joyful
ENJOY THE SEASON
The first step to extending
the Christmas joy is taken by enjoying the joy of the Christmas celebration.
Throughout the history of the Jewish people, God gave them various festivals.
Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were the three most important. Each
festival celebrated a time of salvation by God. The people were instructed
to set aside time from their normal routines and enjoy a meal with their
families. To commemorate these events, the nation developed different rituals
that symbolized their miraculous deliverance by God. The period of preparation
and all the associated chores were essential to the festivities. The arrangements
prepared the people for the event. The decorations set the atmosphere and
Few would argue that
the holidays are quite stressful for most people. The traffic on the roads,
the lines in the stores, finding the right gifts, addressing all those
cards and all the other activities of Christmas tend to tend to increase
our level of stress. Scan the December issue of any magazine and you will
probably find an article on how to deal with holiday stress. A common theme
of these self-help articles is advance planning. The authors claim that
by purchasing your gifts early, preparing you food in advance, and limiting
your commitments, you can lower your level of stress. That's probably good
advice will help but it will not entirely insulate you from stress. Something
unexpected will undoubtedly arise. You will run short of scotch tape. You
may discover that your cousin is also getting your aunt a white candle.
Or, your realize that your nephew wants for his xBox game, Rainbow Six
3 not Soul Caliber. So, in spite of all your advance planning you still
have last minute details to complete. However, this year rather than grind
you teeth as you wait behind a slow driver, or grumble about slow cashiers,
or complain about the annoying quirks of other shoppers, simply enjoy each
moment. It's all part of the celebration.
Consider Joseph and Mary's
journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem--dangerous and uncomfortable but a necessary
part of the grand moment. Inconvenience is a natural part of life. Fretting
over what we cannot change is a useless endeavor that will only dampen
Often I hear people justify
their Scourge-like attitude toward Christmas, on the excessive commercialization
of the holiday. My heart aches for them. The abuses of others should never
prevent us from enjoying the miracle of the Incarnation.
Community is essential
to a celebration. We may be happy when we are alone, true celebration requires
others. The enjoyment of Christmas is best done with others that is why
I was disappointed to see the lack of attendance at the Nativity Dinner
and Hanging of the Greens. Those events are so important to our holiday
celebration. They serve to remind us that God brings us his love through
our relationships with others. Even the most devoted introvert cannot help
but feel energy from a gathered community who are celebrating and rejoicing.
I hope that no matter what the weather you will come and join with us in
our next celebration Christmas Eve. It is not too late to remember and
enjoy the love God offered by sending us his son.
The second step toward
overcoming the post-holiday blues requires us to stop worrying. Paul write
do not be anxious. This is not easy. We have a lot to be worried about.
Each evening we listen to news reports about world events that are troublesome.
We worry about not have enough medical insurance if we become sick or money
when we retire. We worry about becoming infected with the flu or the threat
of a terrorist attack. We worry every time our child walk out the door
because we know about all the things that could go wrong and how they could
get hurt by a friend or stranger. The Christmas bills begin to arrive in
January and we worry about paying them before the next Christmas. We have
a lot to worry about.
Several years ago, I
attended a seminar entitled Renewing the Mind. I learned that we have control
over our emotions. We choose to feel happy or sad. We chose to feel content
or anxious. We choose these feelings based upon our beliefs that we are
taught by our parents, past experiences and the culture. For example, I
could walk down the aisle of the church with a baseball bat and you might
wonder why I would bring a bat to church in December but you would not
be anxious. But if you are walking along from the Joe Louis Arena late
at night after a Red Wings game and you see a young man walking toward
you, your anxiety level would undoubtedly rise. You have heard stories
about downtown muggings. You know the statistics probability of the age
and sex of offenders. The presence of the bat does not produce your anxiety.
You choose to be anxious based upon the setting, your lack of familiarity
of the other person and your isolation. But you could, granted with some
difficulty choose not to allow your fears to overcome you and remain calm
Paul understands that
the Philippians have many threatening circumstances, anyone one of which
could produce a high level of anxiety. He was beaten, stripped, and thrown
into prison during his first visit to the city. He knows that the business
people of the city are not favorably disposed to the Christian message.
But he also knows that both he and the church serve a Lord whose presence
will abide with them even through persecution. And his presence should
remove all worry.
We often use a creed
during our worship service entitled, "A Brief Statement of Faith." It opening
statement is a marvelous reminder of God's providential care. It states,
"In life and in death we belong to God. In their commentary on the statement
William C. Placher and David Willis-Watkins write, "This terse beginning
announces the good news about our relationship to God whatever our condition.
This claim stands in sharp contrast to the nagging fear that we may be
lost in an impersonal cosmos."2 The statement reminds us that whatever
the circumstance of our life, we need not fear, we need not worry because
we belong to the Creator and Lord of the universe. A spirit of joy will
not reside in our hearts until will learn this basic trust.
SPEAK THE WORDS OF JOY
The third step in overcoming
any form of depression requires us to proclaim our joy and thanksgiving.
This is more than just the power of positive thinking although the PPT
advocates include the same advice. There is tremendous value in the very
act of vocalizing our joy. C. S. Lewis once confessed that for many years
he was uncomfortable with the Scriptural admonitions to praise God. He
once considered it a rather arrogant request. But in his book Reflections
on the Psalms, he writes;
But the most obvious
fact about praise-whether of God or anything-strangely escaped me. I thought
of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never
noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise....the world
rings with praise....I had not noticed that the humblest, and at the same
time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks,
misfits and malcontents praised least.....praise almost seems to be inner
health made audible....[also] praise not merely express but completes the
enjoyment; it is appointed consummation.
An intangible relationship
exists between the body and the soul. Sometimes the health of the inner
soul can health a sick body. And sometimes the body can bring the soul
into a state of blissful happiness. The act of rejoicing, praising, or
giving thanks with our mouths may serve to express the joy of our hearts
but it may also relief the sorrow of a troubled act and replace it with
joy. The demonstration of our faith through acts of rejoicing transforms
Richard Foster echoed
this theme when he wrote, "Joy begets joy. Laughter begets laughter. It
is one of those things in life the we multiply by giving."3 The more we
rejoice, the more we will want to rejoice.
THE PERMANENCE OF JOY
The post-holiday blues
may overcome anyone. Sometimes we all wish that every morning could be
as exciting and wonderful as the joy we fell on Christmas morning unwrapping
our presents. But our joy will not endure the test of time unless we are
willing to shift our focus from those moments of temporary ecstasy and
learn to rejoice in the ordinary junctures of life. We cannot serve as
beacons of light unless we are willing to put aside the worries and concerns
of this world and rest in the assurance of God's graceful care. And we
will not experience life of spontaneous joy until we begin the word begin
to sing from our lips.
1 "Seasonal Depression,"
Online: December 11, 2003, http://my.webmd.com/content/article/62/71506?z=1663_51206_6503_00_12
2 William C. Placher
and David Willis-Watkins, Belonging to God: A Brief Commentary on A Brief
Statement of Faith, (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992),
3 Richard Foster, Celebration
of Discipline, (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1988), 197.