The holiday season is upon us. This means scrumptious food, seasonal decorations, and a whole smattering of unspoken, though deeply felt shoulds.
While many people disagree on when you should buy your tree or how long you should brine your turkey, our culture loudly agrees that we should be glib during the holidays and that the festivities and food should drown our the pain we feel in the depths of our hearts.
But, the Scriptures say believers should be glad, not glib. While glibness implies a giddiness which is often insincere and/or shallow, the Scriptures call for gladness which is rooted in the unchanging character of God and the deep works for God rather than changing circumstances.
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night…For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:1-2; 4)
“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord! Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!'” (Psalm 122:1).
In the Old Testament, gladness is often correlated with oil which represents the Holy Spirit. The first time Jesus opened the Scriptures during his public ministry, he quoted from the prophet Isaiah who mentioned the oil of gladness which would replace mourning in time.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant to those who mourn in Zion- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
The gladness the Scriptures speak of is cultivated through worship as a discipline and accompanies the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Psalm 92, which I quoted above, the writer connects gladness to the works of God. However, this statement was not spoken cheaply or lightly. In the Psalm, we hear an honest outcry that the wicked seem to be flourishing (Psalm 92:6). However, time spent in the presence of God and a fresh anointing with oil (Psalm 92:11; 13), the psalmist is given new eyes to see the same things differently. The situation has not changed; the psalmist’s perspective on the situation has. Thus, his ability to be glad in the works of God and the nature of God in whom “there is no unrighteousness” (Psalm 92:15).
Don’t let the subtle shoulds of the season demand a surface glibness. Rather, hear the should of Scripture which invites you to gladness that can coexist with honest disillusionment, deep grief, and trying circumstances.
The poem “Christmas Eve” by Christina Rossetti captures the depths of gladness the Incarnation brings.
“Christmas Eve” by Christina Rossetti
“Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing moon.
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show;
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.”