During December, we endure the onslaught of advertising that tells us the only right way to celebrate Christmas is with happiness and joy. No frowns allowed.
Added to this are the Christians shouting from the rooftops that we all need to remember the “reason for the season,” or else… (The “or else” is how I perceive the force of this message sometimes.)
So not only is it culturally inappropriate to frown during December; it’s sacrilegious. Because if I really loved Jesus, then I would be happy (translated: smiling) to celebrate His birth.
For those of us struggling with mental illness, it can be unrealistic to expect us to be happy or merry on demand. Happiness and merriment are emotional states, and mental illness interferes with our brain’s ability to feel these emotions.
Allow me to give you permission to not feel happy or merry during the holidays.
Why do we celebrate Christmas? What exactly is the reason for the season? The obvious answer is that we’re celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
So, it’s a birthday party? That makes sense with how the holiday has evolved in society – parties, presents, and expectations of happiness and joy.
I’m not saying that’s wrong. But as someone who struggles with mental illness, I’ve had to dig deeper into God’s Word to find a way to celebrate the birth of Jesus outside of emotion and mood.
Why do I celebrate Christmas? How do I celebrate Christmas?
Jesus never told us to remember His birth. He did tell us to remember his sacrifice and death.
I Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
That sacrifice and death would not have accomplished its purpose had Jesus not been born a man. Only a human could pay the price for human sin.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Jesus came to earth as a man for the express purpose of taking the curse of our sins on Himself, and giving us His eternal life in its place.
I can look at the manger scene and remember that this was Step One of His plan to free me from sin.
Remembering this may produce an emotional response, or it may not. But Jesus didn’t tell us to be happy; He told us to remember.
I am thankful.
The Christmas story that most people hear is from Luke 2. It includes the heavenly host appearing and praising God. The shepherds who heard and saw this glorified and praised God for what they had seen and they went around and told everyone they met about the wonderful events they’d witnessed.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Mary was no less thankful for the gift of God than the shepherds or the angels. Thankfulness is not measured by the size of the smile or the volume of the praise.
Thankfulness is a choice.
I can choose to be thankful whether I feel like it or not. I can choose to acknowledge the gift God gave me when He sent His only son to be born in Bethlehem.
I’m not required to work up artificial emotions to prove to others how much I appreciate what God did for me. My reaction to God’s gift of Jesus is between He and I. I choose to thank Him as I ponder the meaning of Jesus’ birth in my heart.
If all I can give is a hug, then I give that hug and know that it is enough.
If all I can give is a trinket bought at the dollar store, then I give that trinket and know that it is enough.
If all I can do is show up at the family gathering – with no gifts or food in my hands – then I show up and know that it is enough.
Jesus was a gift to us from God. And He spent His whole life giving, and teaching us to give.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Regardless of how I feel, I can be obedient to God’s commands and give to others. I can let go of the world’s opinion on how much I should spend and on whom.
II Corinthians 9:7a
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion,
God gets no glory when I give reluctantly or under compulsion. Knowing that releases me from the guilt and shame the world system tries to put on me.
II Corinthians 9:7b
for God loves a cheerful giver.
This is the only verse in the New Testament where this word – hilaros, which is the origin of the English word hilarious – is used. And there are other verses throughout the Bible that tell me it’s ok to be where I am.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
God loves both the cheerful and the brokenhearted.
I don’t have to be in the mood for Christmas; because Christmas is not about emotional expression. Christmas is about Jesus, and I can choose to focus on Him regardless of how I’m feeling.
How are you able to focus on Jesus, when your emotions are anything but happy and merry?
Photo credit: geralt