“People were doing and experiencing hard things during that first advent...but they were able to both invite the Savior into their life as it was and allow His majesty to lighten their load.”

Recently I’ve been in a season of feeling fatigued, foggy, distracted and having nothing to say. I’ve been stressed over what I’ll eat, drink and wear. It feels like I have too much to think about yet nothing to really do. I feel idle and blah.

Yet here we go barreling forward into another Christmas season and once again I don’t feel like I have or can sustain a “Christmas spirit”. I try to remember that the modern idea of a joyful Christmas spirit is a social constraint that we are culturally born into but not necessarily one that God calls us to. He shows us in His Word that joy fluctuates to embody different expressions. There is joy in celebration (the one we most think of), joy in endurance, joy in lament, joy in busyness, joy in peace, joy in quietly treasuring things in our hearts, and on and on. Joy in the Christmas season can also be expressed in many ways that aren’t culturally conventional. Jesus Christ came to break our chains but oh! the irony when we pick those chains right back up and lock ourselves into unrealistic expectations.

So what do I do? Baking, decorating, and caroling does help me to get in a festive mood and I will engage in these as I am able; but mostly this year I want to remember the people captured in the scriptures during that first advent. People were doing and experiencing hard things. People not so different from myself.

Mary was a young girl, probably around 16 years old, when an angel appeared to her to tell her she would be pregnant with God’s son. She would have known that this miracle would be perceived as an excuse to cover up premarital sex which was punishable by stoning to death. Yet she chose to trust God and she sang a song of adoration (Luke 1:46-55) to Him who bestowed upon her the blessed work of participating in the fulfillment of salvation prophesied. 

My heart breaks for Joseph. At that time, Mary could have been stoned for her perceived infidelity. By not accusing her, Joseph could have been considered an accomplice of injustice and, in addition to that pressure, how he must have grieved her betrayal before he knew the truth. Culturally speaking it would have been more than gracious of Joseph to quietly break his betrothal to Mary (Matt 1:19). But an angel spoke to him in a dream (Matt 1:20-25) telling him the prophecy that was being fulfilled in his fiancé. The scriptures say, “when he woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matt 1:24). He did not wait. Even with all the hard things going on inside and outside himself, he woke and he acted with a spirit of joyful (though perhaps confused, hurting and a bit scared) obedience. 

By decree, Joesph had to make the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem which was about a 100-mile walk with his 9 months pregnant wife riding a donkey (Luke 2:1-5). Their trip was so arduous that they arrived late losing their reservation at the inn. Joesph’s well-thought-through plans fell through. Not only must he have felt like a failure for losing their accommodations, but now his wife was in labor on the floor of a dirty barn and he must become the midwife - a skill set he was in no way equipped to carry out. He could have thrown up his hands and left, abandoning Mary and her baby out of frustration and overwhelming embarrassment - but he didn’t. His Christmas spirit was acted out in steadfastness and humility when things were very hard.

Next, we have the shepherds lying in the pastures as they were known to do keeping the sheep. A shepherd’s job is a rigorous one. As we learn from King David in 1 Samuel 17:36, shepherds constantly risked their lives to protect their flock from wolves, bears, and lions. Every day they did hard things to protect their flock and this Christmas morning was not too different. When the angels appeared to them, the shepherds were filled with terror (Luke 2:9). This was a far greater sight than any lion but still, they stayed with their flock instead of running for the hills. They stayed and heard the good news of great joy the angels spoke of and immediately sought out to find the newborn King. Though they were dirty and likely very smelly as they spent all their time in the fields with sheep, they did not stop to clean themselves up before entering the birthplace of the Savior. They approached Him just as they were with nothing in their hands. Unlike the wise men to come after, the shepherds weren’t prepared to meet a king nor did they have expensive gifts or really anything to give. What they did have they gave generously - their joyful voices brimming with adoration and willing spirits to spread the good news they had heard and seen with their very own eyes (Luke 2:20). They must have felt so special to receive such news, and what great news it was!

People were doing and experiencing hard things during that first advent. They trembled, they treasured, they proclaimed, and they endured. But no matter the way of their expression, they worshipped. Hard things didn’t stop when they heard the good news of their Savior but they were able to both invite the Savior into their life as it was and allow His majesty to lighten their load. 

I am doing and experiencing hard things during this advent 2,000 years later - maybe you are as well. These hard things don’t stop for Christmas. So I will continue to do these hard things taking guidance from those who have gone before me to sing songs of adoration (even if it is in a minor key), continue in joyful obedience (not hiding or ignoring my pain), press forward with steadfast humility (prayerfully asking for it in plenty), stay and hear the good news of great joy (even if it doesn’t send me skipping light and fantastic), seek out my King (even as I tremble for lack of strength), and come as I am (fighting the temptation to wait until I’m “clean enough”). I don’t want to feel pressured into an unrealistic ideal but remember the myriad of expressions of joy leading to worship that are laid out in the scriptures. In this way, I hope to find freedom of expression of a Christmas spirit - or should I say advent worship - which will be eagerly accepted and embraced by the King of Kings.

Jennifer Ko

Jennifer is a member of Cornerstone WLA and serves in the Counseling Ministry.

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