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By: Kathryn Stangel

The season of Advent is a time of spiritual preparation, when we ready our minds and hearts to receive the greatest gift of all, the Redeemer in the form of an infant. It can be strange thinking our Savior brought Himself down to our level to endure hardships and difficulties for His relatively short time on earth. But Christ did not expect His mission to be easy, especially as He faced criticism and setbacks time and time again. Rather, He came to preach a message of joy— one that we can choose to accept today.

Joy is different from happiness. We occupy ourselves to obtain happiness, content with abiding by its false pretenses. But happiness is fleeting. It comes to us when something goes our way, but it cannot endure the trials of life. Authentic joy, on the other hand, is a deeper sense of fulfillment and connection with Christ.

From the pandemic, online school, oddball jobs, and messy relationships, the chaos of Christmas was the farthest concern on my mind. It’s easy to lose hope when everything in life seems to go the opposite of what it should. I asked myself, “How do I find joy during Christmastime, when it’s difficult to do so in other aspects of my life?” I’d take my frustration out on God when I prayed, asking Him why I struggled to feel happy. I received no response, and my thoughts began to turn on me. Maybe God doesn’t hear me, I figured. Maybe my depression is permanent.

The more these thoughts weighed me down, the less joy I felt in my heart. I tried journaling, but writing down my thoughts seemed to exacerbate my sadness even more. I reached a plateau. I was going through the motions of living, and finding no relief in prayer. With seemingly nowhere else to turn, I took up reading and came across a powerful passage in Gabrielle Bossis’ He and I, an account of the author’s intimate relationship with Christ. In this entry, she writes, “Offer everything you do and think… to please Me, to be with Me, not to leave Me alone. How willingly would I take refuge in a faithful heart so as to live there with my Father.”

This Christmas, Christ invites all of us to open our hearts to Him and His love.

When we have this love, joy inevitably follows. Even if we feel like we don’t deserve to be happy, when we place our trust in God, we acknowledge we need Him just as He desires us. Now when I pray, I remember Christ’s eagerness to get closer to me. I can tell Him exactly how I feel, not expecting a response every time but trusting He hears each word. By offering everything up to Him—from my achievements to my anxieties—I make my heart like a manger, as a dwelling place for Him to fill with His abounding grace.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46-47)

Kathryn Stangel is a prospective teacher and aspiring author. She has written for the Journal & Topic and Patch, as well as reviewed up-and-coming authors at Metamorphosis Literary Agency. Currently, she attends Illinois State University, planning to double major in Secondary Education and English, with a minor in Italian.