It’s that time of year again when “joy” is plastered on our decorations, our trees, our commercials, and our clothes. Joy is forced upon us as the only appropriate response to our cultural ideals of all that is good: excess and happiness. To experience anything other than a “joyful” response to presents, food, family, or Hallmark movies is seen as an affront to the season, one that cannot and will not be tolerated.
Somewhere along our journey joy morphed from a response to The Divine to a cultural obligation. Our holiday has shifted from a religious experience to a cultural expectation.
My own life is a testament to this. Over and over in this season, I’ve chosen my own light to provide joy, rather than the Light of the World. I’ve chosen to put my efforts and time into cultivating a beautiful reputation and beautiful traditions while neglecting my connection to The Divine.
I’ve chosen performance over being known.
The chaos of life is too much for me in this season. I often believe the lie that God desires my pageantry and false narratives because, though Jesus came to know and be known, I am somehow excluded from that. My messiness is an exception to the rule. My darkness is too big and too bad for the God of the Universe to handle. Manufacturing cheap joy is far easier than confronting my trauma, embracing my weaknesses, and accepting my messiness.
But, eventually, that facade of cheap joy cracks for all of us. We find ourselves screaming through clinched teeth at children just wanting attention or drowning our sorrows in decadent food until we lose all emotions. And we wonder where Jesus is in all of this. Where is that joy we’ve been proclaiming?
Too many times we shrink from the light, assuming that our darkness will consume it. We accept our fear and relinquish control to it. But what if we changed our course this Advent season? What if we dedicated this time to seeking knownness, vulnerability, and intimacy instead of performance and pageantry? What if we dared to trust that the light is far greater than the dark?
What if we had the audacity to think that Jesus came to Earth as a baby to know and be known? Not just theoretically, but intensely, personally, and completely known. Not just for people 2,000 years ago, but for us. Not just for that one guy with the perfect reputation, but for you with all of your mess and me with all of my mess.
We are not a people of the shadows. We are people of the light.
If we decide to concern ourselves with gratitude, adoration, and praise instead of the paralyzing pressure of creating a perfect holiday or being the perfect person, we won’t need to manufacture joy or cling to our charades. Everything we need is in the Light of the season. Everything we hope for is born on Christmas day.
Jesus isn’t interested in our Pinterest boards or popularity contests. That’s not the point of the manger. That’s certainly not the point of the cross.
This Advent season, may we have the courage to experience true JOY and may we proclaim to the world the words of Henry Van Dyke’s great hymn: