Christian joy can make tough holiday season easier to bear

by Kyle
published December 21, 2013


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There’s nothing quite like the end of the year.

Retailers finally turn a profit. Businesses work on their end-of-year earnings reports. Charities make most of their money. Income taxes come to the minds of millions of Americans (which may very well explain the success charities enjoy this time of year). Along with all the trappings of Christmas and the new year, there is always the colossal issue of money.

No other time of the year is quite as hard to make it through, either. Memories of loss — both recent and long past — become much more keen. Families who lack money feel the sharp pain of being unable to provide. Others, identifying with Charlie Brown, just don’t get excited about the whole Christmas thing while they struggle to fit in with a whole population filled with joy.

James 5 addresses both the haves and the have-nots.

Recall that James’ primary audience is the have-nots. His church had been scattered by persecution in Jerusalem, and the overarching theme of the whole letter is living through trouble and trials.

James admonishes his readers for showing partiality to the rich who join them in their meetings and neglecting the poor. This leads me to believe James is not addressing someone in his congregation directly when he tells the rich to “weep and howl for your miseries.” Instead it seems James addresses the church’s oppressors.

But why should they “weep and howl?”

Wouldn’t it be nice to have money? Don’t rich folk live a blessed life? And wasn’t it the wealthy who were oppressing the church and taking its members to court? (James 2:6)

James, however, isn’t talking about present miseries befalling the wealthy.

In verse 4, James switches to the past tense, recalling a common device used in prophesy in the Old Testament. The things that will happen in the future are so assured that the writer speaks about them as already having happened.

While a nice life can be bought now, money dries up. If not lost in this life, it will be certainly lost in the next.

What’s the point, though, of James condemning the rich? They probably aren’t even his original audience.

One of the most important words in the whole New Testament is “therefore.” Immediately following James’ round condemnation of the rich, James begins verse 7 with “therefore,” and begins his final encouragements to his congregation.

The message of the first six verses of James 5 is simple: Money, despite the importance we place on it, is not what life is about. What perhaps is troubling to those who have it should be a comfort to those who lack it — people like James’ congregation.

Where money might be hard to come by, the real things of life are not expensive at all. James maintained from the very beginning of his epistle that real blessings — and the real stuff of life — come from persevering through trouble.

Instead of seeking a way out of trouble, James encourages us to “be patient” amid trouble. Continue to love people, place your faith in the God who is both here with you (which is the point of Christmas, after all) and just around the corner all at the same time.

James concludes the passage with a reminder of Job, who lost his family and his fortune and his health, placed his faith in God, and was delivered and restored by God. The source of his hope? Job said, “I know my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth.” (Job 19:25)

Christmas is hard sometimes. In so much of the work I do in ministry, I’ve met lots of people who strive to eke out some joy despite the keen hurt the holidays inflict.

And that’s OK.

Because the hope of Christmas is not in the shopping and the gifts and the money, or even the tree and the dinner and the egg nog. The hope of Christmas is not in making up for the person who’s missing. It’s not in somehow manufacturing the bright Christmas spirit everyone else somehow has so naturally.

The hope of Christmas lies in the fact that our Redeemer lived (he was born), that he lives (he was raised from the dead), and that he’s coming back again to fix once and for all that hurt, even that painful holiday hurt.

If you struggle with Christmas joy, try Christian joy. The latter is quite distinct from the former in that Christian joy has nothing to do with decorations or Santa hats or carols or bells.

Christian joy comes from a certainty that an eternal relationship with God is available and that, no matter how things seem, the wrong of the world will be righted by that same God.

So be patient, love one another, and wait on God. Merry Christmas.

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