Better than happiness – Greg Laurie – and
Christmas, so it is supposed, is the happiest time of the year. I don’t know who wrote that song, "It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," but I am convinced they have never been to a mall during Christmas!
Maybe you’re going through some deep waters in this Christmas season, and it’s a difficult time for you. It’s hard for you to identify with "Good tidings of great joy" the angels spoke of.
Happiness is obviously something of great importance to us as Americans – especially at Christmas. We talk a lot about happiness and joy in this season.
USA Today recently ran an article on happiness, interviewing hundreds of people and so-called experts, trying to determine what the traits of a happy person are. They actually came up with some interesting conclusions:
1. Happy people always have family and friends around them.
Marriage makes people happier, and a close family inoculates many kids against despair according to long term research. The happiest always had good friends.
2. Material things will not make you happy.
One expert said, "Materialism is toxic for happiness." This is especially difficult during the holidays because we can set our desire on getting certain things, and if we don’t get those particular items, we’re not going to have a good Christmas. We have set ourselves up for disappointment. The authors of the study found that happy people did not necessarily need "things" to make them so.
3. Happy people are always grateful people.
"Gratitude has a lot to do with life satisfaction," psychologists say. Talking and writing about what you are grateful for actually amplifies happiness. Other researchers have found that learning to savor small pleasures has the same effect.
4. Forgiving people are happy people.
"Forgiveness is strongly linked to happiness," says University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson. He says, "It is the queen of all virtues and probably the hardest to come by."
5. The happiest people on earth are Scandinavians.
So let’s put it all together. You need to be forgiving. You need to be grateful. You need to have family and friends. And you need to be Scandinavian (There’s not much we can do about that last one).
Tragically, many are more unhappy this time of the year then any other. I was speaking with a police officer the other day who told me about a recent suicide. Just days before Christmas, a despondent man took his own life. The officer reminded me that suicides definitely spike around this time of the year.
Christmas can be a sad and unhappy time for many people. You look at people celebrating all around you, and you feel left out. Or you see people with what seem to be ideal marriages and families, and you wonder what happened to yours.
When the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, out in their fields on a dark night, they heard these words: "Don’t be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy." Not just joy, but great joy.
They also said, "Don’t be afraid." If you want to have joy this Christmas, don’t let fear cast a shadow over your heart. Why? Because fear and anxiety can rob us of our joy. We think of the times we live in today as fearful times, particularly since the United States has become the target of terrorist attacks or random gunmen who stalk arbitrary victims in churches and shopping malls.
Maybe you’ve been wrestling with some personal fears as well. What if I lose my job? What if the economy goes South? What if my health gives out? What if my spouse has an affair? What if I can’t pay off these credit cards that I have overcharged for the Christmas presents I have bought?
The condition of heaven-sent joy is to let go of your fear. You can’t hold them both at the same time. In essence, the angel was telling the shepherds, "Go ahead and rejoice whether you feel like it or not because your world has just changed forever!"
The joy that we experience in Christ can be ours whether we are in good times or bad. Of course it doesn’t mean we have to have a plastic grin on our face 24/7! When the Bible speaks of joy, it speaks of something far deeper than that. It is an abiding joy that’s there no matter what.
You might say, "How can I be happy? How can I have joy? I’m having a hard time this Christmas. I have so many difficulties in my life right now … problems in my career, problems in my marriage, problems with my health. I can’t be joyful."
Yes, you can. And here is why: When the angel appeared to the shepherds out in the fields by Bethlehem that first Christmas morning, he said: "There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
This day. We might think, "I’ll be happy tomorrow. I’ll breathe easier next week when my next paycheck comes in because I’m overextended. I’ll be happy and joyful when I see what I get for Christmas. Hopefully my parents or spouse picked up on all of those hints I left. I can’t be joyful until then." Or, "When I finally get through this present difficulty – when I’m finally ‘over the hump,’ then I’ll be able to smile again."
It’s always going to be something. Don’t you know that by now? If you’re not going through some kind of a difficulty, either you are not breathing or you are in major denial. We all have problems in life. Don’t feel like you’re the exception. But rejoice anyway.
If you are looking to this world to make you happy, you never will be. If you are looking to your husband or wife or friends to make you happy, you never will be. If you are looking to Christmas to make you happy, you never will be.
The angels spoke of a "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." You have a Savior. A rescuer. You have someone willing and able to step into your life and change things for the better – Today and forever.
I can’t think of a better gift than that.