December 1, 2023

A Thankful Heart is a Happy Heart: Finding Joy During the Holiday Madness

While anyone could have a reason to not look forward to Christmas, it also remains a season of hope and joy. A time of turning disenchantment to optimism.

Noah Cecil

Growing up, Christmas was always the most exciting time of the year for me. My family would have simple traditions that I looked forward to every holiday season. Traditions such as decorating a pine tree and cookies, visiting lit-up, holiday-themed neighborhoods, watching movies, visiting my grandparents for decadent dinners, and (of course) opening presents on Christmas day. 

Adulthood can make it hard to have that same childhood excitement for Christmas. Whether it’s becoming cynically conscious of consumerism, dealing with family challenges, facing financial hardships, or perhaps not having fond childhood memories of the holiday season at all –– Christmas can be a hard time for many. 

While anyone could have a reason to not look forward to Christmas, it also remains a season of hope and joy. A time of turning disenchantment to optimism.

In today’s blog, I’m going to talk about why it’s important to remind the congregation of Christmas as an opportune time to count our blessings, and provide helpful tips for pastors to do this through engaging sermons and acts of service through the church. 

The Holidays Can Be Hard

First it’s important to address why the holidays may be a difficult time, or why it may not share the same wonder that it once did.

There’s a comfort in childhood that comes with little responsibility, especially during the holidays. Christmas is usually a time of being away from school, taking part in fun holiday-themed activities, and receiving gifts. In adolescence, being exposed to new experiences feels fresh, exciting, and doesn’t measure up to much expectation.

As we grow up, taking on more responsibilities, we start to feel the holiday stressors and some personal cynicism. Unlike school, adults don’t typically get a winter break away from work. In fact, Christmas activities and gift shopping begin to factor into accruing expenses such as rent, utilities, gas, groceries, etc. On top of that, there’s the holiday planning between friends, immediate and extended family, or having a family of your own.

Further complicating the holidays, we may even feel resentment with certain family members, whether due to something that was said or done in the past, or simply having a difference of values or opinions. When it comes to family or loved ones during a season of festivities, we may even experience a sense of loss –– grieving those dear to us who may no longer be around to celebrate.

Some of us growing up may have not had typical family Christmases either, perhaps experiencing high stress around family finances, or family turmoil (such as abuse, alcoholism, or divorce).

Lastly, during a time of year where the emphasis tends to focus on high consumerism, it can feel like society’s lost the plot for the meaning of Christmas. This feeling can take away some of what makes the traditions of Christmas sacred, a la Charlie Brown. 

Survey on Holiday Stressors

In a 1000 American participant survey conducted by sleep-study company, Sleepopolis, data analyst Brianna Aurey reports that “Eight in ten Americans” feel heightened stress due to “the expectations and events around the holidays.” 

Not only do Americans feel heightened stress around the holidays, but a Morning Consult poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (based on 2,119 american participants) shows that:

  • 46% of adults are worried about affording gifts.
  • 40% of adults are worried about finding gifts.
  • 47% of adults feel anxious about missing family members.
  • Compared to older adults, younger adults are more likely to “say they are anxious about the upcoming holiday season, particularly about social and family dynamics.”

How Can Pastors Make an Impact This Christmas?

With so many people feeling certain stressors or even a lack of luster with the arrival of advent, what can pastors do to empower the congregation?

To help answer this question, I’ve put together three steps of action that pastors can implement for a more meaningful and joy-filled holiday season:

  1. An advent sermon series that focuses on joy in the face of adversity and how the newborn king represents that.
  2. Guiding the Church on weekly reflections of gratitude and the blessings we already have.
  3. Promoting charity and acts of service.

#1: A Sermon Series on Joy in the Face of Adversity

When it comes to a season surrounding the arrival of the Messiah, who came to die for our sins and establish the Kingdom of God “among us” (as stated in Luke 17:21) ––a kingdom that welcomes rich and poor alike without partiality toward the other (Luke 2:1-9) –– it may seem a strange thing to worry about material things, such as gifts, decorations, or elaborate meals. 

During a time that may be cause for feelings of financial insecurity, pastors can use the nativity to reflect on verses and stories of the Bible that highlight gratitude, counting our blessings, as well as the ways in which we’re rich in spirit through Jesus’s established kingdom. This isn’t only helpful in gaining an optimistic perspective through financial stressors, but can even serve as a way for finding joy in the midst of holiday grieving. 

In addition to recognizing blessings and gratitude, it’s important to remember that hardships may not alway last and can rather be a season of challenges. Because of this, pastors can also go through verses and stories of the bible that show ways in which we can still find joy from God during hard times –– no matter our circumstance.

Lastly, the holidays may be an opportune time to speak on the importance of forgiveness, overcoming resentment, and bringing forth unity. This can be especially important for members of the congregation to hear as family and friends begin to gather for seasonal festivities. 

A Helpful Tool for Advent Sermons

Being able to address such hardships during an equally busy time of the year for pastors can be difficult.

With the help of sermon preparation tools, pastors now have an easy way of generating effective sermon outlines, prompting verses and Bible stories on the topic of gratitude, creating character studies and even coming up with modern day examples of Biblical stories that can assist in effective holiday sermons. 

#2: Weekly Reflections on Gratitude

While it may be one thing to hear a message on the importance of gratitude, it’s another thing to actually step into the practice of gratitude.

Along with the sermons, pastors can also put together a reflection for the congregation to engage with on a weekly basis leading up to Christmas day. 

This reflection can be as simple as providing certain verses to pray and reflect on or even creating a guided list that members of the church can fill out together or at home, such as:

  • “Who are five people you’re thankful for?” 
  • “What are three things that made you happy this week?” 
  • “What’s a prayer God’s answered in the past year?”

This is an easy activity that can be done through a church’s website, app, or handing out printed media. 

#3: Charity and Acts of Service

Lastly, charity and acts of service are effective ways of gaining perspective on gratitude and helping people feel connected to something bigger; something meaningful and fulfilling. 

According to UK organization The Mental Health Foundation, not only have studies “found that acts of kindness are linked to increased feelings of well-being,” but the organization states that “volunteering and helping others can help us feel a sense of belonging, make new friends, and connect with our communities.”

Pastors can promote charity and volunteering by:

  1. Putting on a church charity event where members can donate (IE. food drives, secret santa for underprivileged children, raising money for a non-profit).
  2. Connecting with local soup kitchens and homeless shelters where members of the church can volunteer and serve.
  3. Raising money for fellow church members who are facing financial hardships.

What better way to celebrate the Messiah’s first coming than to follow in His footsteps? “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). 

Don’t Lose Heart for the Holidays

We may find ourselves feeling stressed, grieving, or downright cynical during the holidays, finding that the season of joy might not be meeting our expectations of what it used to be or what it always should’ve been.

Thankfully with the birth of Jesus and His new kingdom through sacrifice, pastors can teach on how the Bible shows us gratitude, how we can reflect on the blessings in our lives, and hopefully, we can take after Jesus and serve others this Christmas. 

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