Every year right after Thanksgiving, I break out my Amy Grant “Home for Christmas” CD, drink hot cocoa brimming with whipped cream, and start the task of planning for Christmas. Usually I’m just casually listening to those now familiar songs of old, but something jumped out at me as I sat in front of my computer looking up recipes on Pinterest for hosting parties and entertaining. The song that stuck out to me was “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
You know the rest of the song: marshmallows roasting, hearts will be glowing, loved ones near… I can even envision the sights, sounds, and scents in my head. But is this the reality for everyone?
Sometimes this time of year can bring heartache and loss. In fact, you may be sitting in front of your screen right now, in the middle of a trial, loss of family member, loss of job, loss of health, loss of joy. Is this the most wonderful time of the year for you?
It caused me think back to a recent time when it wasn’t the most wonderful time of the year for me. In fact, it was one of the hardest seasons of my life. I had suffered the death of a beloved family member, and was feeling the awful side-effects of medication during a long process of recovery from a chronic illness. The last thing I wanted to hear was people telling me to be of good cheer! “How dare they!” I thought. “Don’t they know what I’m going through? Don’t they understand how I’m feeling?”
Everywhere I looked the world was trying to convince me that I should find joy in the glittering trinkets and pretty-on-the-outside things of this world — the “Pinterest-perfect” life. But I didn’t find joy in those things. And it made me wonder: Why do we hope in those things when they can be so easily stripped from us? How should we, as believers in Christ, even in the middle of a difficult season, find joy?
A wise and godly friend lovingly shared truth with me when I was in that dark and lonely place. She challenged me to identify where I was placing my hope, and I realized that even though I was a believer, for a long time I was placing my hope in my health and in the temporal circumstances of this life.
She didn’t stop there however; she entered my darkness and pain and spoke reassuring words from scripture. This reminded me that my hope is in the Lord (Lam 3:24), that He never leaves me or forsakes me (Is 41:10), and that He is a very present help in times of trouble (Ps 46:1) . She also shared with me Psalm 42, a passage that acknowledged my pain while also declaring that even when my soul is cast down and in turmoil, Christ is my Hope, my Salvation, and my God.
A Lesser Known Christmas Tune
Let’s consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the circumstances surrounding her life at the time of the Savior’s birth. In Luke 1 we find her, newly engaged, being visited by an angel who’s telling her she’s going to soon have a baby. Oh, and by the way, He’s the long-awaited Savior of the world. I can’t be sure how I would have reacted, but I know how Mary replied. Did she react with panic, fear, and worry? She could easily have looked at her rapidly-changing life and doubted God’s goodness and plan for her. God was asking her to trust Him in this and all circumstances of her life. She humbly responded with worship and obedience. We find her in Luke 1:38 saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Then, amazingly, she sang a song of praise.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Notice that she was focused on the unchanging attributes of the Lord, the WHO of her life not the WHAT. Mary’s response to the changing circumstances of her life was to obediently trust God and worship him. She points us to the One who can deliver us and sustain us in our trials.
So does this mean suddenly everything was alright for me? Not exactly. In fact, my circumstances actually got worse. But with the Lord’s help, I was slowly able to shift my focus to Him in obedience and worship. When I focused on Him, my circumstances didn’t carry the same weight as they had in the past.
Be assured. This wasn’t just a matter of willpower or positive thinking. Those things are too subject to feelings. And faith is not a result of how we feel. In fact, it often runs counter to our feelings. But God’s word and his character are true no matter how we may be feeling. It isn’t willpower that presses us towards trusting in God when all else is failing. It is a true faith in God empowered by the Holy Spirit that helps us to press on with confidence in Him.
Pastor and author Tim Keller puts it succinctly this way, “Faith is not primarily a function of how you feel. Faith is living out, trusting, and believing what truth is, despite what you feel.” When life is hard and our struggles are real, we don’t have to pretend that life is good. We can honestly come to God and tell Him how we feel. Rather than allowing our fears and doubts to turn us away from Jesus, they should cause us to cling to the truths found in scripture that point us to our Savior.
The song that Mary sings is a powerful reminder to us that God is our Savior, He is mighty, He is merciful, He is our provider and our strength, He is our helper and defender. Dear brother and sister in Christ, if you are finding yourself this Christmas season in the midst of suffering or you have lost your sense of wonder and worship, remember to focus on the Hope that this season truly brings, the Hope of new life, new birth. Jesus, born in a manger during the middle of unexpected circumstances, joyfully dwelt among us and enters into our pain and loss. Our hope and expectations are no longer in the ever changing circumstances of life, but in the never changing God whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6).