Rejoice in the Lord always. And I will say it again: rejoice! - The Lord is near. Phil. 4, 4 + 5b
I wish you a Merry Christmas! I wish you that the joy of Christmas will enter your life. Regardless of how you may experience this Christmas season. Maybe you will be able to enjoy these days without any worries, that would be nice! But maybe you feel like the young woman which author Susanne Hornfischer¹ writes in her story about Christmas. I would like to share this little story briefly with you in my own words:
Can you imagine a little town with stores, a bus-stop, and an old church? A young woman is coming from the Christmas market. I'll call her Suzanne. She missed her bus on the way home. The next bus is not scheduled to leave for another half hour. Suzanne doesn't want to wait that long in the cold. She decides to enter the nearby church. She knows this church quite well. But she hasn't been here in the last few years. She didn’t attend church service for a long time. She was disappointed in God, had turned her back on Him.
When she got married in this church, her world looked bright. Her children were baptized here. She herself had lived with God in this church, believed in Jesus. Her life was blessed. Until that day when her husband decided to leave her. He loved another woman and left. Both her world and her faith did collapse.
And now the young woman was sitting in this church again after a long time. Candles were burning on the altar. There was the smell of Christmas in the air. Everything was silent and in the mind of our young lady was the thought of Christmas. Her children had grown up and would not celebrate with her this year. She expected a lonely and sad Christmas.
Suddenly noise erupted in the church! A horde of children entered the church from a side entrance and dashing towards the altar. They are all dressed in shepherds’ costumes, and they want to practice the shepherd play for Christmas Eve. The leader keeps the wild “shepherds” quiet for a while. Our young woman is allowed to remain seated and watch.
Everything is going well with the shepherds in the field near Bethlehem, until this scene: a boy dressed as an angel approaches the shepherds and shouts that they should not be afraid. Why? "I bring you ...!" Then the “angel” suddenly falters. He had forgotten the words. "I bring you ...!" he says again, but the text was gone. The boy is in despair, the other children grumble. Again, this embarrassing hitch with this “angel”!
The lady director takes over and helps. Frustrated, she calls out loudly: "JOY! I bring you great JOY!" She encourages the boy to play the scene again. "Think about joy! Focus on joy“!
The final part of the nativity play is suddenly no longer important for Suzanne. Not even the bus that leaves without her outside. The word about the forgotten joy hit right into her heart. It was as if God himself did talk to her. She had forgotten the joy that God presents to us. She had focused on her suffering and difficult life situation, and not on the joy to which not only the angel in the field near Bethlehem, but also the apostle Paul invite us. "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say: Rejoice! The Lord is near!"
At Christmas, the Lord Jesus Christ comes very close to us. God becomes man. That is what we celebrate. That is cause for rejoicing. That is what we should focus on and not on the many negative things that constantly try to dominate our thoughts and feelings.
If it were only about our mood, we would have much reason to be sad. Human tragedies, severe strokes of fate, illness and death do not follow our schedule in life. They don't stop at Christmas. Philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote in the last century, "The attitude toward life in the coming time will be that of a tremendous anxiety." ²
The more we need to be reminded again and again that we have a reason to rejoice. Martin Luther described it this way: "A Christian is a person who leaps out of a dark room into the light." ² Christmas brings light to the world. Not just by candles and fairy lights, but by the joy that Jesus Christ wants to bring into our hearts. Jesus says: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no-one who believes in me should remain in darkness” (John 13, 46).
"The Lord is near!" Jesus Christ is very close to us; he is only a prayer away! And I do hope that he is also very close to our world and its misery! That he is near with his help and with his new time that we are waiting for.
The annual motto for the coming year is an invitation to all who are tired and sad, who live lonely without comfort and hope. Jesus Christ says, " Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (Gospel of John 6, 37).
This is the promise the Lord Jesus Christ provides to us. This promise is not only valid from January 1st, but already as of today! And this promise is also valid during your Christmas time, no matter how you will experience these days. Jesus Christ wants to make your heart glad again. Focus on HIM and the joy HE wants to bring to you. I wish you a Merry Christmas with a heart full of joy and peace. I wish you to experience the closeness of God.!
Until then, may God be with you and bless you in spirit, soul and body.
¹ Out of Susanne Hornfischer: “Grosse Freude, Eine Geschichte zu Weihnachten” (Susanne Hornfischer, Great Joy, A Story for Christmas)
² Quotation out of: "Words to Breathe Up," Christoph Morgner / Dr. Reinhold Pregla, p. 331