When I was a child, one set of grandparents lived forty-five minutes away and the other lived in the opposite direction nearly two hours away. Normally, we would leave early in the morning or the early afternoon to travel to their houses for our long-awaited Christmas celebrations. My brother and I would pass the time with books, magazines, and significant arguments.
However, coming home was a different story. The darkness increased our sadness about leaving our extended family and the Christmas festivities coming to an end. So, my brother and I would silently press our little foreheads to the cold windows and look at the stars as we wound around country roads leaving my grandmother’s tiny community. There were no cell phone games to play to distract us because at that time a cell phone looked like a shoebox with a giant antenna sticking out and those gems were few and far between. However, for Christmas one year, I did receive a Gameboy, but it was useless once the sun went down because the screen wasn’t illuminated.
Now that I have children of my own, I’m sure my exhausted parents were praying we’d go to sleep as we traveled home, but once we turned onto the main highway, our posture straightened and our expressions lit up as we began to see Christmas lights. Joy replaced our sadness as we happily competed to see who could spot the Christmas lights first.
To this day, I still love Christmas lights. I get just as excited as I did all those years ago. For instance, last Sunday night as my family was driving home from church I could see two houses in the distance on either side of the road that had lights galore! I shook my husband, who was driving, to make sure he could see them, but he wasn’t as amused as I was. I began to tell my kids to look up at the lights long before we drove past. But they weren’t interested either.
As we got closer, I noticed the words, “JOY,” largely spelled out in the yard with bright red lights. “Look, how pretty! It says joy!” I shouted.
The boys completely missed it. They never saw the lights, because they were looking down. They were engulfed in their game systems they were given last year to help us keep our sanity when we make our long holiday trips. While those games do have advantages and keep them occupied in the car, their screens are illuminated. So, they miss everything when we travel, because they are always looking down.
As I reflected on this, I was convicted of the many things I also miss as I travel through life, because I am looking down. It’s easy to become distracted by the world around us. We are constantly looking down for news or work updates, to check missed calls and messages, or see what we’ve missed on Facebook. What we don’t realize is, while we are looking down we are forfeiting precious moments with our families as well as missing out on countless opportunities to minister to others.
During this time of year, it’s also easy to hang our heads in defeat. Let’s be honest, buying gifts isn’t an easy task for everyone. It can be a struggle and finding the time to do it can be even harder. We are racing from one event to the next as we manage cooking, wrapping gifts, honoring obligations, and our everyday normal. We busy ourselves to the point December becomes a blur. We tend to stress so much that our gaze is on the ground and no joy can be found!
And I’ll even be the first to admit, that I’m not only looking down in December at times, I am feeling down. A large part of my heart now lives in Heaven, and I grieve for my grandparents during the month of December more than any other time of year. While I cherish the memories, I miss them greatly. I miss the way things used to be and the joy and excitement we experienced with them at Christmas time. Christmas is a dark and depressing time for many people who have lost loved ones or are enduring trials and testing.
But for those who hope in the Lord, we must be strong and take heart! When sorrow fills our hearts and depression keeps us in the dark, look up and lean in because the Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Jesus says, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness (John 12:46). Even in the pit of despair, the joy of the Lord must be our strength! He alone has the power to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).
When the burden of buying gifts and the commercialism of Christmas leave us in defeat, look up! Keep in mind that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17). True joy can only be found in Jesus – not gifts that come in packages.
When we are distracted by our schedules, demands of society, and our status on Facebook, look up! We need to lay down our idols and look unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2, KJV). Do away with the things of the world that divert attention from seeing the Light. I am saying this for your good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35).
No matter the circumstance, it’s imperative that we look up so that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
If we are looking down we cannot see the Light, nor can the lost see the Light within us.
They looked to him and were radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed.