“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus,” Charlie Brown confesses to his friend in A Charlie Brown Christmas. “Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”
“Charlie Brown,” chides Linus, “you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy is right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”
There may be only one Charlie Brown, but many of us can relate to his problem: It’s Christmas, but we don’t feel the way we are supposed to feel.
We’re anxious. Will the children like their presents? Is the family going to get along? If life is extra hard, we feel bitter and resentful of Christmas cheer. Disappointment litters the holiday season. Your son didn’t come home for Christmas. Your party was a flop. Envy rears its ugly head. You were reasonably content until your cousin spent an hour telling you all about her amazing life. We feel stressed about all the work we have to do, and irritable because no one is helping us do it. Grief presses down with oppressive force.
Charlie Brown got one thing right: there is something wrong with us. Sin has corrupted our experiences and corroded our emotions. We feel the devastating effects of sin all around us and to our very core, sometimes—perhaps especially—at Christmas.
But the message of Christmas doesn’t come up short of our emotions. In fact, have you noticed that the angel’s astonishing announcement was aimed straight at the shepherd’s emotions and ours as well?: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11, emphasis mine).
The good news of Christmas is that God sent his Son, born of a virgin, to live a perfect life, to die and take the penalty for our sins and redeem us completely: body, mind, and emotions. Now we can feel the way that we are supposed to feel—not some vague, sentimental happy holiday feeling, but true, Christ-like, emotions of genuine love, deep joy, godly grief, and solid hope. Because of Christmas, we can feel the way we are supposed to feel: we can feel what God wants us to feel.
How are we supposed to feel at Christmastime? Quite simply, we are to have emotions that line up with God’s Word. This may be grief and sadness over sin and suffering, but it will also mean joy and hope in the “good news of great joy” that is the gospel. If our goal is to have God-glorifying emotions, then the good news is that we can feel the way we are supposed to feel at Christmastime. Here are three R’s for our Christmas emotions:
Revise your emotional expectations. So often, we think that holiday emotions should be unusually pleasant, but instead, we feel unusually tempted which throws us into further confusion and despair. But we shouldn’t be surprised by emotional temptation during the holidays. It’s to be expected (1 Cor. 10:13). We are busier than any other time of year, interacting with people we only see once a year (relatives, office parties, etc), and often wrongly invest in more earthly hopes than any other time of year. Is it any wonder we experience more emotional temptation? But temptation doesn’t have the last word. Instead, we need to see the Christmas season as an opportunity to grow in godly emotions. It’s a chance to see the ugly sins in our heart that may have been hiding the other eleven months of the year; but more than that, it’s an opportunity to repent and experience the Holy Spirit’s sweet grace for change.
Read and pray more. It never fails to astonish me how much there is to do at Christmastime. Most years, I’ve punted to a good advent book and shortened quiet times to get me through the season. Not so this year. It might sound cliche, but I’m so busy that I need to read more Scripture and engage in more prayer in December. I’m actually doubling up on my Bible reading so I can finish out my plan by the end of the year (I got a little behind!). And I’m not skipping over my prayer times. Nothing goes to work on our emotions more than God’s Word and his Holy Spirit working through prayer. Consider: what could you read and pray about if you got up only fifteen minutes earlier each day? Maybe you could read through the gospel of Luke or a Psalm a day. If you want to feel like you are supposed to feel this Christmas, there nothing better you can do.
“Run into” your emotions. When I was little, my parents often made me “run into” my fears. They meant that I needed to charge at my fears like a running back “runs into” the hulking linebackers in order to get to the end-zone. My parents knew that by the act of doing something I was afraid to do, my emotions of fear would greatly diminish. So this Christmas, let’s charge at our sinful emotions and push them away. In other words, as I now tell my kids, do the opposite of what you feel like doing. If you feel lonely, get out and serve someone. If you feel annoyed at a relative, take an active interest in them instead. If you feel irritable, smile. If you feel envious, give thanks to God for his good gifts to you. Far from being falsely festive, you may be surprised at how quickly your emotions will change when—instead of giving into them—you run into them, and past them toward the goal.
Charlie Brown may be the Charlie Browniest, but Christians should be the happiest. We can feel the way we are supposed to feel at Christmastime—and anytime—because the good news of great joy has come to us.