Nehemiah 8:10 says, ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ Christmas can be a stressful time for people, especially those who have been newly bereaved during the year. It’s hard to face the first Christmas without a loved one, and there are times when joy seems a totally alien emotion to us. We feel cut off from joy, like the Israelites in exile who said,
‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?’ (Ps 137:1-4)
It’s worth remembering that Jesus is ‘a man of sorrow and familiar with pain’ (Isaiah 53:3), that He put on human flesh to walk with us in grief and sorrow. ‘Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.’ (Heb 2:18) The Christmas story is full of pain and sorrow, especially because of the Slaughter of the Innocents. (Matt 2:16-18) Mary was told by Simeon, in a prophetic word looking ahead to Easter, ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2:35) The Bible does not tell us a rose-tinted story; this is not a fairy tale with no difficulties.
But joy can exist alongside sorrow, despite the fact they look like unlikely bedfellows. Nehemiah knew that joy can bring strength, strength when you feel weak and despairing. Even in those times, Jesus can bring joy. He sits with us in our sorrow and strengthens us until we once again know joy.