Finding Joy during Christmas of 2020
By MVC Guest Author, Erin Nelson
Advent 2020 feels like the first recorded Christmas. Darkness and uncertainty mixed with anticipation and wonder. Since our brains are wired to avoid pain, we naturally want to escape the dark emotions and reach for joy. But finding joy is impossible without sorrow and this year is inviting us to engage with what is. As we look to what is being called the “dark days of December”, we hold hope and remember how joy pierced the darkness that first Christmas.
Joy ushered Jesus into the world as after much sorrow, God promised Zechariah and Elizabeth a son who He said would bring joy. We read that John leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s (dark!) womb at the sound of Mary’s greeting. We find the Magi in the darkness as they were filled with joy when they saw the star. The angel brought the shepherds good news of great joy as they watched over their flocks by the dark of night. At the end of his life, Jesus promises his friends a joy that can’t be robbed, even as he gives them the sad news that he will be leaving.
How do we find joy that can’t be robbed?
It starts in the dark.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” Darkness invites us to look inward. What wounds need attending? What ambitions have been ignored? What new life wants to emerge this season?… And we don’t need to face the darkness alone. Jesus showed us his humanity as he asked his friends to stay during his darkest days. He acknowledged his need for love.
A 75-year Harvard study on joy came back with this finding: “The biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life is, basically, love.” This joy study showed that love can trump even the biggest risk factors for our health like trauma, smoking, or even high blood pressure. This is no surprise since Jesus told us how joy and love are directly related when he says in John 15 that if we remain in His love, our joy will be complete.
Since my son, Carter, died last year I’ve needed to lean into my human need for love. As a plant bends toward the light, I bend toward others as I heal. My pain is transformed as I feel and express while others hold and witness my loss. I have learned in my life work with grieving families that denying the darkness leads to negative mental health and toxic behaviors. And I’ve watched the transformation of the suffering soul as it heals and thrives through the beholding and expression of suffering. It is in the voicing of heartache and the giving and receiving of what we call “support” (really just love)that helps. This expands our soul to increase a capacity for joy. So, let’s lean into joy this Christmas of 2020 even as we allow ourselves to touch the darkness. Let’s take a collective sigh and say this has been hard. To give voice to all we have lost. And let’s let love in. To honor our humanity and be brave enough to ask for support as we enter the darkness to find the light.
This brings us to what Jesus promised – a joy that can’t be robbed. Even during the holidays of 2020.
“The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.”