Christmas joy

Christmas as training for Joy

Christmas 2022 is here and gone – although my family tree is still up, and the Lutherans would tell us we’ve still got a week to go. The weather is soggy, and January lies before us. 

But our post-Christmas outlook need not, and in fact must not go the way of dreary. Because the holy-days of Christianity are meant for more than celebration. We celebrate in order to shape and train our hearts to a jolly joy the whole year through. Burl Ives commanded a “holly, jolly Christmas,” and he was singing better than he knew. We celebrate Christmas so that we can have a jolly heart in January, too. 

If you come from a “high church” tradition, you may have celebrated many “feasts,” but here are the five I’m convinced we should truly celebrate, along with Christians through the centuries, and they’re a joyful walk through the gospel:

– Christmas (preceded by Advent)
– Palm Sunday (celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem)
– Easter (preceded by Lent)
– Ascension (when the Lord was raised to heaven)
– Pentecost (when the Spirit came down to the church)

Note that each of these was celebrated by its original participants. Thus those who “celebrate” Lent by giving up stuff and walking around morosely are missing the point. (And those who precede Lent with a day of debauchery in New Orleans are really missing the point.) These holy-days are meant to shape and train our hearts to find Jesus to be the most valuable thing, the only thing of ultimate significance, and therefore our highest joy. The church celebrates these in order to have that jolly spirit of faith that overcomes the world. 

And yet there is one more day we should consider in this same way. This Sunday we come to a transition in the world’s calendar – 2022 will come to a close, and 2023 will begin. 2022 years since what? Jesus our Head split the world’s own calendar in half. Every day that passes is defined by Him. Ironically, secularists actually know this better than many Christians. That’s why they want to redefine that split in the calendar, from A.D. – “in the year of our Lord” – to “C.E.” – the “common era.” They know the centrality of Christ, and so they want to erase it. But mere wordplay cannot extinguish the power that defines even our days and is still working amongst us, in our church, in you, and me. 

This is a reality to celebrate and ground ourselves in as we walk through transitions, in our church, our lives, and the world. These holy-days, and the calendar itself proclaim: Christ is come, crucified, risen, ascended, and dwells among us, in power. Thus He is the Lord of all our days. Living in this reality fills us with that jolly spirit, which is another way of saying with God Himself. For He Himself is a jolly God, full of joy – in Himself, and in His Son, and in His Son’s Bride, made new in Him.