“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Luke 1:47
What do Hallmark movies, Christmas carols, hot cocoa, snowy Christmas scenes, Christmas hits playing 24/7 and phrases like “believe in the magic of Christmas” and “spread some Christmas cheer” have in common? They bring to mind all the warm, fuzzy feelings of Christmas that descend upon us sometime around the first of December. They surround us like a blanket that we can sometimes latch onto in hopes that if we just wrap all this manufactured comfort around us, the cozy warmth of the season will seep its way into our hearts.
During the holiday season it seems everywhere we go we’re being told to feel merry, to feel joyful, to feel peace, to feel calm. The truth is, if we’re honest, we may not feel that way at all. It’s been a hard year. Ministry is hard, people are hard and circumstances are hard. As I’ve traveled to various events in the past few months and talked with several women who lead and serve in areas around the country, a thought that has echoed throughout these conversations is that 2021 in some ways has been more difficult and challenging than 2020. There are various reasons for this, but a prevalent one appears to be that we are living in the aftermath of what a global pandemic exposed and laid bare in our ministries and churches. We are coming to grips with the reality of where our people are – spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. It has been a struggle to reconnect for many and some have found community elsewhere. According to Lifeway Research, the average church is still missing more than one in four churchgoers compared to early 2020. (lifewayresearch.com)
As believers in Christ, who delight in serving the church for the purpose of bringing glory to God, what we know we’re supposed to feel during the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ as opposed to what we actually feel can be conflicting in our spirit. When we don’t feel so merry or joyful or even at peace, what do we do?
We remember. We remember that God chose to come near. When we observe the interaction between Mary and the angel Gabriel, as he tells her “Greetings favored woman! The Lord is with you,” we see that Mary’s initial response is that she is deeply troubled by this type of greeting. As we continue to read the passage in Luke 1:26-56, we see the progression of Mary’s response to the news as she began to realize what this meant. We can imagine that she must have felt overwhelmed by her circumstances yet she found her peace in God’s presence and her strength in his power. When faced with unexpected circumstances and overwhelming challenges, she responded with courage, love, obedience and joy. She chose to magnify, to have an expanded posture toward God and His character. She joyfully and confidently sang and praised the Lord. Her words are recorded on the pages of Scripture and continue to serve as a beautiful reminder for us today.
When we don’t feel merry or joyful, we can choose to believe – not in the magic of Christmas, but in the Messiah in the manger. Our praise comes from knowing – not feeling – that God is present, God is near. It’s His presence and power that lead us to unshakeable faith and a life that magnifies His name.