Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Luke 2:10
Reading is very therapeutic for me. By reading I learn to be a better writer, and after a certain number of pages, I become a better sleeper. While I am always reading the Word, snuggling up with a stirring story by a Christian author is a perfect offering for sweet sleep. Lately my shelves have been book-barren, having read all my favorite books in our home.
Every year at Christmas we would buy Grandmother Doris a box full of books by Christian authors. She was particularly keen on Christian romance novels. I happened upon a box of her books which had been moved to our home after her passing. Desperate for a new book, I surveyed the lot for unread possibilities. Two or three books into the search, a fresh title caught my eye.
As I opened the book to confirm its newness to me, in the upper right-hand corner of the title page, written in pencil was Grandmother Doris’s stamp of approval, “very good.” It almost took my breath away, a gentle whisper from heaven sharing, “this will be just what you need for a good night’s rest.” And she was right!
Written as historical fiction, author Lynn Austin’s “All Things New,” chronicles the lives of three women living in post-Civil War Reconstruction. While we can watch the devastation of war in Ukraine, and in Gaza, along with certain regions in Africa, we can simply change the channel and let the world take care of itself.
This Civil War was not 3,000 miles away in a foreign country, it was in their neighborhood, part of their nightly prayer time. They could see the war; they could smell and taste it in the air. Their friends and family suffered death and dismemberment. There were times that families took opposing sides, shooting at one another across the bloodline. By the time the war ended, the weeds of bitterness had found their way into many hearts across America, ready to choke out a whole generation of people.
For some in our story, they went from privilege to daily personal survival. Let’s try to imagine if a war broke out in America, with homes blasted to rubble, family hurt or killed, and no way to communicate with one another. I would think priorities might change. Food and shelter would move up the list. Today, in some parts of our Country, the inner cities, moms send their children to school concerned they will come home at the end of the day. For them, survival is a daily routine.
The author, Lynn Austin, settles in on one of the issues which has pertinence for the Reconstruction period and for modern day America. Austin breaks down the difference between happiness and joy. She writes, “Because there’s a big difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is external and can change when your circumstances change. If you believe that money will make you happy, for instance, and then you lose all your money, you’ll be very unhappy.”
Austin then writes this about joy. “But joy is deep inside us and isn’t dependent on circumstances.”
I am sure Christmas was far different for those in the Civil War, a few moments with family, news family members were safe, or perhaps a warm meal for the soldiers. Proverbs 17:22 reminds us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.”
By the time the angel spoke to the shepherds, their spirit was in survival mode. There had been a 400-year period of silence from God. Any small morsel of hope was met with great enthusiasm. And they demonstrated this enthusiasm by heading straight to the stable where our Savior was born. They found joy! Jesus is our joy!
Austin finishes the discussion on joy this way, “When we walk away from God, we walk away from any chance of joy. Joy doesn’t come from circumstances but from God.” Have you walked away from God, perhaps searching for happiness and thinking it was joy? Maybe life has been pretty tough lately and you feel like there is no hope. God’s Word promises, “The joy of the Lord is my strength!”
Christmas should be a wonderful time of year, but sometimes we set expectations which are beyond reality. Try, by the grace of God, to place more emphasis on other people’s circumstances than on your own. Help someone who needs help. Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us as Christians what we should be producing. “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
I Pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13.
Are you celebrating with the angels the great joy of the season? Our focus will be on Jesus this Christmas, because Jesus is the reason for our joy, and joy makes all things new!