I used to despise Christmas. Not the church season per se, but the incessant joy of the season. I found it annoying that people were just “unnecessarily” filled with perpetual glee with the Christmas pop music playing on repeat, and especially with the commercialization of the holy feast day of Christmas.
My aversion for Christmas began in the midst of a severe depression that stretched from my childhood well into adulthood. From experiencing racism at an early age, to constant bullying, to my parents’ divorce, and no prescription of the Gospel, I seldom had joy in my life. It also didn’t help that my parents’ divorce was finalized just one month before Christmas, so Christmas was never the same since then. I even tried to selfishly rationalize it with, “At least I’ll have two Christmases!” But that didn’t work. There were no more Christmas traditions, no more mom and dad, and the divorce fundamentally changed each of us children. Our family was broken. This sent me even deeper into my depression, to the point that I had a plan to commit suicide.
Fast forward to when I became Lutheran and the Lord slowly (and I mean slowly) worked on me through my depression.
It was through His Word and Sacraments that I realized I was constantly inward focused—what Luther calls enthusiasm; that I was looking to my fruits in repentance (i.e., good works) and my ability to have an emotional experience for assurance. The Lord brought me to look extra nos—outside myself—and toward Christ and His good and perfect work on the cross, and His joy to be our Savior. When I had previously looked to myself and my vain efforts for assurance of salvation, the Lord made it clear that assurance is based on the efficacy of His spoken Word, especially in those wonderful words of the Sacrament, “Given and shed for you.” As Luther comments, Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine that are “accompanied by the Word … are the treasure through which such forgiveness is obtained. This treasure is conveyed and communicated to us in no other way than through the words ‘given and shed for you’” (LC Part 5, 28–29).
And there is the joy at Christmas: Christmas is about Christ for you.
He came full of grace—full of joy—for you. His cup of grace—His joy for you—overflows. Even when you doubt. Even when you doubt, God still has joy in you! Why does God give you this grace? Because it gives Him joy. Because you—yes, broken as you are—give Him joy. Not because of anything you have done, but what Christ has done for you. By virtue of being baptized into His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ you are His son, His daughter (Romans 6:3–11).
You can have joy this Christmas because Christ is for you, always; and therefore you can sing, with true joy, the Christmas hymn:
My heart for very joy must leap;
My lips no more can silence keep.
I, too, must sing with joyful tongue
That sweetest ancient cradlesong:
Glory to God in highest heav’n,
Who unto us His Son has giv’n!
While angels sing with pious mirth
A glad new year to all the earth.
LSB #358 From Heaven Above to Earth I Come (stz. 14–15)
Photo courtesy of Elisa Schulz Photography