Ministers of any Christian denomination know that Christmas is a very emotionally trying time for many people.
First, every family is reminded at Christmas time of loved ones who have died and can no longer celebrate with us physically. Then there are the addicted family members or the mentally ill family members who refuse to live up to our expectations. Next, we have the suffering sick or elderly family members who make their best effort to be cheerful despite the incredible pain they are in, or the fact that they cannot remember who you are anymore. Finally, there is a growing population of people who live alone and celebrate the holidays by themselves. This list does not include the minor family squabbles about where and when to celebrate the holidays or what to eat.
Living in community is hard work. Loving others is not easy. So, how do joy and peace fit into these scenarios? The secular concept of happiness does NOT fit into this scenario. Expecting the holiday season to be filled with cheerful happiness is not realistic and leads to depression and disappointment. So, what can we expect?
We can expect the ancient power of grace to come into our lives to strengthen us so we can love others as we love ourselves. How can I invite grace into my life? How can I avoid getting caught up into useless arguments that sap my peace? How can I remember loved ones who are no longer with me through rituals or story-telling? How can I set boundaries to love and protect myself? Who else can I reach out to and share my company with? Can I simply sit back and enjoy what I see?
The gifts of peace and joy are otherworldly, eternal gifts that come through grace. Grace is obtained by contemplating eternal life. The gifts exchanged at Christmas are all about the love and charity shared between human beings during one brief moment in time. However, no one other than God can give us the gifts of peace and joy in the midst of a world filled with suffering.