Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on
Your troubles will be out of sight
— Hugh Martin 1943

My favourite Christmas song (not carol) is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. It is a sad song telling us that our troubles will be out of sight, not removed. Indeed, there are no guarantees. Even the joy of family reunions are contingent on the Fates. Every Christmas we are cajoled to be jolly when in truth Christmas is the saddest time of the year for many. I think of widows and widowers facing their first Christmas without their partners. It is devastating. I know. Indeed the year-end is when all the sorrows of the year come to mind and Christmas celebrations are, at most, distractions.
This year I am particularly sad when I look northwards and see the destructive floods affecting so many in my tanah air (motherland). The number of fatalities is climbing day by day. The number of families who have lost everything in the relentless torrents is numbing. Philippines is getting it even worse. And we have many friends there. It is a Christmas of tears. How can anyone be merry this Christmas?
Last Sunday I preached on Luke 1:39–56 which includes this wonderful song by Mary (vv. 46–55). Why the incredible joy? Because Mary, a young, simple, peasant girl had been chosen to carry the promised Messiah in her womb. This was by no means guaranteed. When the angel Gabriel announced God’s choosing her to bear the Messiah (Luke 1:26–38), she could have said no. Instead, this was her reply:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38 NIV).

Her joy came because she said yes to God. She believed in God. As Martha says:

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! (Luke 1:45 NIV)

Commenting on this verse, Joel B. Green writes:

Elizabeth’s second pronouncement of blessing employs the term known to us especially from the Beatitudes: “blessed”—spoken over those who are judged to possess what is necessary for a joyful life and especially over those who are recipients of God’s gift of redemption. While the basis of the former “blessings” was Mary’s motherhood and thus, signal role in the realization of God’s purpose, here she is declared fortunate because of her faith.
(The Gospel of Luke [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997], 96.)

Mary is thus a model disciple who shows us how we ought to relate to God, and to the real source of joy. The true source of joy then is not related to the time of the year or to circumstances. It is related to how we relate to God. Joy comes when we respond in faith and obedience to His Word. And this we can and should do every day.
So, yes, this is a tough year-end for many of us. But we choose to look to the Lord. We listen out for His voice. And we say “yes Lord”. Many of us need help in these troubled times. All of us can be channels of His grace to the many who are hurting. When we do that we find ourselves in line with God’s purposes and discover surprising joy.