January Depression and Divine Joy

Do you get down after the holidays? If you do, you're not alone. As long as I can remember, the days after Christmas (and after New Years!) have always left me feeling a little low. I wouldn't quite call it depression, but just feeling kind of blah. After all, your calendar has gone from cluttered with Christmas parties, Cantatas, and various get togethers to...nothing. So how do you deal with that post-Christmas let-down? 

In Luke 2, we get a glimpse at a group of people on the other side of Christmas: the Shepherds. In Luke 2:8-14, they receive the message of Messiah's birth. With great enthusiasm they run to Bethlehem and hunt down the newborn King. Finding Him, they worship. But then, they do something surprising in verse 20: they go back to the sheep. Back to work. Back to the ordinary grind. Surprising, isn't it? 

We would expect a massive moment like meeting Messiah to completely alter the lives of these humble men. And on one level, that midnight meeting did utterly transform them. They were the first evangelists of Messiah's birth. They were now filled with salvation joy. But on another level, the stuff of their daily lives did not change. They were still shepherds, watching sheep on a hillside outside of Bethlehem. 

They returned, back to their sheepfold, continuing with the same ordinary life, but with now extraordinary joy, "glorifying and praising God," the text says. Those who go to Bethlehem in worship will leave the manger-side with joy. But God does not intend for us to live our lives in the rarefied atmosphere of hearing from angels and receiving divine revelations. In fact, truth be told, the moments of extraordinary spiritual experiences for the Christian are rather rare. Instead, we're called, like the shepherds, to do live with extraordinary joy in ordinary circumstances.  

To put it differently, we do not live by the manger-side, but on the hillside, not in church, but in the office; not in the prayer closet, but in the classroom. Don't get me wrong: we must spend time in churches and prayer closets, but the miracle of Christianity is not that it takes God’s people out of the ordinary stations of life, but that it invades those ordinary stations with joy and delight. The presence of Jesus as our Master transforms our work into worship. Glorifying God becomes the goal of even eating and drinking. The gospel enables us to live for God's glory in the home, at work, and in the daily grind. 

If we expect the Christian life to be constant manger-side miracles, we are sure to be disappointed and disillusioned. If, on the other hand, we expect the Christian life to be God's presence in the ordinary back-to-the-hillside moments, we're sure to be delighted. 

The basis (ἐπὶ) for the shepherd's joy was God's Word now fulfilled (ἐλαλήθη). They had been recipients of grace; now they would be spreaders of joy, even as they remained keepers of sheep. 

So how do we sustain joy in the return to mundane Monday mornings? Like the Shepherds, set your confidence on the promises of God in Christ. Every promise is "yes and amen" to us in Jesus (II Corinthians 1:20). Like the shepherds, cultivate a life of worship. Though a life of worship is sustained in regular corporate worship, it is more than this. Finally, embrace the sheepfold as your cathedral, the place you can praise God. Even the most ordinary of moments, we are called to faithfully praise and serve our Creator. 


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