I wonder how many of you own a Christmas compilation album? You’ll find shelves stocked with them everywhere during the festive season, but despite the many different CDs available, they generally all have the same songs on them. They’ll all feature ‘Merry Xmas Everyone’ by Slade and other cheery, upbeat songs that get you in the mood for a party.
Not many of them will feature ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell. It’s as much about Christmas as Noddy Holder’s hit but it doesn’t get a great deal of airplay. It begins with the lines “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace” – what’s not Christmasy about that?
But Joni goes on to sing “I wish I had a river I could skate away on”. ‘River’ is all about wanting to escape the pain of celebrating Christmas alone after a relationship has ended. Though everyone around her is “singing songs of joy and peace”, Joni mournfully sings of how lonely and empty she feels.
I wonder how many people feel that way as we approach this Christmas? For most people it is a time spent with friends and family, going to parties, receiving presents and generally enjoying themselves, but there are those for whom Christmas holds no enjoyment. On December 25th this year there will be many people sitting alone, with no family coming to visit them, no friends to celebrate with, no presents to unwrap and no turkey to enjoy. Perhaps you know some of them; the grieving widow, the orphan, the man who’s lost his job, the young single mum. Do we expect the pain of life to magically disappear because it’s a special time of year?
I’m sure those people who find Christmas a difficult time look at those who have it all – the tree, the lights, the mountains of presents, the family gatherings, the parties, all those things we picture when we think of Christmas – and wish they could have that life. It must be tempting to think that if they had all that, then they’d be happy, then they’d rejoice that December was finally here.
Though there certainly is much pleasure to be had from a Christmas with all the trimmings, that isn’t where the Bible tells us we should find our joy. In fact, if our Christmas lacks one vital component, then it doesn’t matter how we spend the festive season, any temporary happiness we find will soon give way to emptiness.
In Luke chapter 2, we read the words the shepherds heard when the very first Christmas was announced.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
There may not be any mention of turkey, snowmen or Santa Claus, but nevertheless we are invited to a great celebration. Jesus has been born! The Saviour has come! Here is the source of all our joy. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has come to rescue us from our sin. What better reason to celebrate could there be? We can try all we like to find that joy in other things, but ultimately it’s like planning a birthday party for someone and then forgetting to invite them – it doesn’t matter how great the party is, it’s not serving its purpose.
You may have seen the story on the news a few months ago about the miners trapped underground in Chile. At the time the story broke it was estimated that the men would be freed around Christmas time. I wonder, if those men could choose between being rescued from their underground prison and celebrating their freedom on the surface, or having their families sent down to them with a Christmas tree and a turkey and beautiful gift-wrapped presents so they could have a Christmas party underground, which would they choose? How much more joyful would their celebrations be on the surface than those with all the trimmings in captivity?
The angel says that this good news of great joy isn’t reserved for those who can celebrate in style. The angel declares that this joy is for all people! There are many stories in the gospels about Jesus spending time with the less fortunate of society, and the true joy of Christmas is no different. The joy the angel talks about comes from knowing Christ as our Saviour. We celebrate his birth because without it, there would be no hope for mankind. The invitation to rejoice at his birth is extended to all, whether you celebrate in a big house with family around you, or you’re alone and struggling to pay the rent. The truth is that it’s possible to have the most joyous Christmas you’ve ever had this year. You can rejoice that Jesus came to save you, that he will always be with you, and that following Him makes you part of His ever-growing family.