Are you finding it hard to be happy this Christmas?
Maybe you are lonely at a time when it appears everyone else has someone. Maybe you are dreading another tense and unpredictable family get together. Maybe physical suffering has drained your energy and enthusiasm for the season. Maybe, for a dozen different reasons, you are fretful and discontent.
So often we step into the holiday season on the wrong foot. We abandon the paths of comfort and joy so clearly marked out for us in God’s Word and pursue happiness in the holiday instead. We hope that cookies and carols will somehow numb the pain or distract us from everything we feel is wrong with our lives. Or we just grit our teeth, plaster on a grin, and pray it’s over soon.
But the way to peace and joy hasn’t changed because it’s Christmastime. Rather we have to be all the more intentional about seeking the Savior at a time when the distractions, and sometimes even the trials, are many.
So here are five habits for holiday happiness:
1. Contemplate the Incarnation
Consider the staggeringly glorious news that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
If we spend five minutes a day for the next twenty-odd days pondering the wonder of God become man to save sinners, we will be happy this Christmas.
We will be happy because we will have hope.
J.I. Packer, in his chapter on the incarnation in Knowing God, explains:
“The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.”
Christmas isn’t a temporary band-aid on the pain of life; it is the announcement of the cure for ruined humanity. The Christmas message is hope to the hopeless. Hope for sinners under the curse of the law. Hope for the orphan, estranged from God. And it is a timely hope and certain hope.
This is “the most wonderful message” of Christmas. This is “good news of great joy”! (Luke 2:10)
God has sent His greatest treasure
Shown His love in greatest measure
Sending Christ to bleed and suffer
Purchasing our joy forever
(From Savior by Sovereign Grace Music)
If we are finding it hard to be happy this Christmas, the incarnation reminds us that our Savior has already purchased our everlasting joy.
2. Consistently Practice the Spiritual Disciplines
Christmastime is a busy time. There are parties to attend, gifts to purchase, wrap, and deliver, cards to send, and cookies to bake. And that’s on top of all the normal stuff we have to do! Something has to give, and sadly, our spiritual disciplines are often the first to go.
We rationalize: “Things will settle down after the holidays. I’ll get back to consistent quiet times in the New Year.” But as the days move closer to Christmas, our hearts become colder toward the things of the Lord. And we wonder why we are so unhappy at Christmastime?
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we give first priority to God’s Word and prayer, we will find our joy renewed each morning. Joy that sticks in the midst of Christmas craziness. For as the Psalmist says:
“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart...they are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb” Ps. 19:8,10 (emphasis mine).
So as things get busy, let’s keep the spiritual disciplines at the top of our Christmas to-do list. Only then can we experience true holiday cheer.
3. Serve Others
Christmas celebrations—intended to be joyful reminders of the incarnation—can quickly become exercises in selfishness. But selfishness is a one-way ticket to a Joylessville. That’s why the third habit for a happy Christmas is to serve others.
The tricky thing is, I often think I am serving others at the holidays. After all, I am buying presents and throwing parties for other people, right? But my lack of joy when things don’t go according to plan reveals that I’m actually just serving myself. I want everything to go my way, to bring me happiness.
I so quickly forget that the Christmas season is about the Son of Man who came: “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). True holiday happiness is found by rejoicing in his coming, and by his grace, emulating his example of servanthood and sacrifice. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty became rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
J.I. Packer again:
“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor—spending and being spent—to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others—-and not just their own friends—in whatever way there seems need.”
How can we make ourselves happy this Christmas? By making ourselves poor. By spending and being spent to enrich our fellow human beings. By seeking our own happiness in the happiness of others. If we are rich in serving this Christmas, we will also be rich in joy.
4. Commune While You Serve
Serving is essential for holding on to happiness this holiday season. But if we try to serve without relying on God’s strength, without meditating on His Word, without offering up prayers to Him, we’ll still be lacking joy. We must commune while we serve if we want to be happy this Christmas.
Remember Martha in the Bible? How easily we morph into Martha at Christmastime! All service and no joy. But our Lord did not rebuke Martha for serving; He rebuked her for failing to choose the best thing (as her sister Mary had done): to sit at His feet and listen to Him (Luke 10:38-42).
This doesn’t mean we are to leave the Christmas shopping unfinished and forget about cooking the big meal. We are still called to serve; but, as Charles Spurgeon suggests, “We ought to be Martha and Mary in one: we should do much service, and have much communion at the same time. For this we need great grace. It is easier to serve than to commune.
Martha experienced the consequences of not communing with the Savior. But we don’t have to be anxious this holiday season. By meditating on God’s Word throughout the day, joy can be ours, even amidst the chaos and the crowd.
5. Turn Gifts Into Adoration
Christmas is full of wonderful gifts, and not just those under the tree. We experience gifts of family and friends, food and fellowship, music and memories.
But we often fail to enjoy these gifts as we should because we fail to remember that “every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).
C.S. Lewis tells us how to turn presents into praise:
“Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility….I have tried…to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different…Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun….If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour” (as quoted in, When I Don’t Desire God, by John Piper).
May every gift we receive this Christmas, every pleasure we experience, cause our minds to run back up the sunbeam to the sun. May we contemplate the glories of the Savior who gave His only Son so that we might enjoy all things through Him.
Happiness isn’t playing hide and seek for the holidays. It isn’t hard to find. Regardless of our difficulty or dread of the Christmas season, we can experience true happiness as we cultivate godly habits. That’s because our happiness is not found in the holidays, but “out of reach” of the holidays, in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.