Contrary to the images of warmth, family, and laughter one might see on television ads around this time of year, the holidays are often a time of sadness for some people. I have, for most of my life, been one of those people. The pandemonium of finding the "perfect" gift, of expressing how you really feel, of coming together as a family, of spending within your means, of getting things out on time, of scheduling conflicts, of unmet expectations, of raising content (and not greedy) children---all seem directly opposed to the experience of Joy during the holiday season. Remembering that "Jesus is the reason for the season" doesn't really work either, as it has become so cliche and cultural. That's how I honestly feel. Every year I struggle at some point during the season with joy. How fitting, then, is it that during the Advent my husband has come to the Beatitudes in his preaching through Matthew. "Blessed," in the original language, means "happy." Eight statements on happiness--joy, rather, in unlikely circumstances. It seems almost unbelieveable that you might find happiness in brokeness, sorrow, meekness, or persecution. Yet, I was reminded in last week's message, that Christ is not speaking of our kingdom, but of His. He is not speaking of what we can achieve, but what He can accomplish in us.
The first beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," promises us that our joy is found in confessing we have no source of life or ability for goodness apart from surrender to Christ...that we are destitute, void of hope without Him. And the blessing, is that we gain Christ and His resources, without which we would never understand the paradox of the next seven verses. To be poor in spirit...to have nothing without Christ...isn't that what the birth of Christ is really about? Emmanuel--God with us--delivering hope when we have none and providing life when we haven't been living. Christmas Joy does not overwhelm me when I consider the manger, the nativity, the star...but only in the shadow of the cross am I astounded by the condescending of Christ. We are not celebrating this month the birth of a self-help guru, a symbol of world peace, a poet of wise words, or a "do-gooder" of hope. Rather, we attempt to acknowledge through Christmas, our gratitude and praise for the One who is help, is peace, is wisdom, is hope.
Happy are the poor in spirit...happy are those whose joy is not wrapped up in the temporal pursuits of the holiday season...happy are those who consider themselves ruined without Christ. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven...for they will know joy unceasing...for they will think nothing of the earthly kingdom in comparison to the riches in Christ...for they will have no greater gift to give this season, than the JOY found in knowing their Savior.