There is nothing like the joy of a child at Christmas. I have had lots of experience watching that child-like wonder in all of my kids and even in myself. I don’t want to lose that. As I have gotten older, I have at times struggled to maintain the child-like wonder, the simplicity of the gospel, which began on that holy night long ago. I get so caught up in “the list”. You know the list I am talking about. The one that is supposed to make us and everyone around us have a picture-perfect Christmas. Only it doesn’t always feel like we thought it would. It feels more like exhaustion. It feels like stress. It feels like I have overdone and overspent only to find that it didn’t lead to what I thought it would.
You have to understand that I am one who DOES Christmas, because I LOVE Christmas. I enjoy so many Christmas traditions and I try to do them all. But years ago, I had a meltdown on Christmas night. I thought to myself, “This is NOT the way it is supposed to be and I am NOT doing it like this again.” That is when I began to cheat on my list. When I felt myself leaning over into the realm of exhaustion and stress, instead of abiding in the realm of Joy-to-the-World and Peace-on-Earth, I just quit the list. I have a beautiful stack of Christmas cards that simply need a family photo and a stamp. They have been neatly stacked in my drawer for three years now. I may leave them there yet another year, as I am creeping way to close to the exhaustion and stress realm.
Scripture tells us that a little child shall lead them. Sometimes we need to stop and remember Christmas as a child does. For this reason, the story below is written for children. Become like a child for thirty seconds and enjoy a child-like view of Christmas. And then, go share it with a child. If you do, you will find that Joy-to-the-World and Peace-on-Earth realm once again.
There once was a young girl who lived long ago.
She was a kind, sweet girl.
She was not a fancy girl.
She was not a wealthy girl.
She was just a girl—
An ordinary girl.
There was only one thing to set her apart from the other girls.
She loved God with her whole heart.
One day, this ordinary girl woke up on what she thought was an ordinary day.
But it wasn’t an ordinary day. It’s no ordinary day when an angel comes to visit.
And that is just what happened.
When the angel came, the girl was greatly troubled. But the angel said what angels always say, “Do not be afraid.” And he said even more than that. He said she was highly favored by God and that the Lord was with her. And then he said something that really shocked her. He said she was going to have a baby.
What? A baby? She wasn’t even married yet. She was just a young girl. She was engaged, because girls back then got engaged at a very young age—but to be a mother now? What would her fiancé say? What would her family say? What would her friends say?
But the young girl didn’t think about those things for very long. Instead, she began to think about what God had said. And you know what she did? She surrendered.
She surrendered to God. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
This young girl’s name was Mary.
Mary surrendered to God. She said, “I am willing, Lord, even if it is hard, even if people don’t understand, and even if they make fun of me or reject me because I follow you. I am willing because I love you, Lord.”
God knew she would surrender, because He could see her heart. He knew that really, she was not an ordinary girl after all.
Mary surrendered to God’s plan because she trusted Him. Proverbs 3:5-6 says:
Trust in the Lord: Point up to the heavens
With all your heart: Cover your heart with your hands
And lean not: Lean to one side
On your own understanding: Point to the side of your head
In all your ways: Form a wide circle with both arms in front of you
Acknowledge Him: Point up to the heavens
And He: Point up to the heavens
Will make your paths straight: Extend both arms out in front of your body, keeping them parallel to each other
Mary was very courageous. At first, Mary was afraid, but being afraid doesn’t mean you don’t have courage. Courage is when you trust God even though you are afraid. But instead of focusing on her fear, Mary accepted what the angel said with great joy. Having joy is a little bit like being happy. However, there is a difference between being joyful and being happy. Usually, when you are happy it is because everything is going just the way you want it to. Happiness is based on circumstances. But being joyful is an attitude of the heart. Joy is something we find when we trust God. Joy doesn’t depend on our circumstances. You can be joyful, even when things aren’t going as well as you would like. You can choose joy by choosing to think positively and look for the good in every situation. Joy is something we find when we trust God. Choose joy today.
J.O.Y. spells joy. It can stand for Jesus-Others-Yourself. We need to learn, just like Mary did, that the secret to true joy is to put Jesus first, then others, and then you last. Mary thought of Jesus, the baby king to come. Mary thought of others—how Jesus would be their Savior. Mary thought of herself last. Because she thought of Jesus first, then others, and then herself, by the time that she started to think of herself, God had changed her thoughts to see her circumstances through the eyes of God, instead of negatively through the eyes of the rest of the world.
Later, we find that Mary rejoices, full of joy, and sings, ‘Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior! For He took notice of His lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed. For He, the Mighty One is holy, and He has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:47-49 NLT)
You see, true joy always stirs us to praise God. And when we praise God, we are filled with joy! Joys stirs up Praise, and Praise stirs up Joy.
Joy to the world! The Lord has come!
What are the things that get in the way of us remembering this transforming truth? First thing that comes to my mind is simply, life. You are all busy moms with little kids. I still have little kids, but I also now have older kids that help me a great deal. I remember what it is like to juggle little kids, try to make everything perfect and special. We have dreams of being the perfect parent, and yet we aren’t, nor were we ever meant to be. We only need to point to the Perfect Parent, our heavenly father. Right now, I want you to think of that one holiday thing that is stressing you out. Is it Christmas cards? Don’t send them this year. Is it lights in the trees in your front yard? Don’t put them up. Just say no. Whatever it is that is causing you to “miss” Christmas and all its joy, just delete it this year. I give you permission and the perspective of someone who has lived longer…there is always next year. A few years ago, my stress was Christmas cards. So, I stopped sending them. Until this year. It brought me joy not stress this year, so I picked that tradition back up. Another year, it was the stress of buying so many gifts for so many children. And I realized that I was just doing it for that experience of a room full of Christmas—a holiday picture I had conjured up in my mind. So, I talked to the kids and told them that Jesus got three gifts, and they were also going to get three gifts. But, though they may get less presents, we were going to experience Christmas more throughout the holiday season. I typed out as many fun, easy to implement Christmas things to do—from drinking hot choc to making Christmas cards, to making soup and sharing with neighbors, to watching Frosty the Snowman. I cut these written activities into strips and placed in a box and each day they drew from the box. Best Christmas seasons don’t have to be complicated or stressful. They don’t have to be dictated by what the world tells us it should all look like. Eliminate and concentrate and you will be much more joyful and much less stressed out.