Crossroads Presbyterian Church
The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
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Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2003-2004

Extending the Joy of Christmas

Year C - 3rd Sunday in Advent Philipians 4:4-7
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 spirit.

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 mood.

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 your enjoyment.

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 and composed.

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.

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 our feelings. 

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 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,
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), 37.
3 Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1988), 197.

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