This devotion appears in the 2021 Buckner Advent Guide, containing devotions and fun activities to celebrate the Advent season. Get your free digital copy of the Advent Guide and Calendar delivered instantly to your email inbox today.
“Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat the festival foods, drink the sweet drinks, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your refuge.’” – Nehemiah 8:10 (NASB)
In 2017, Harvard published the results of a longitudinal study that highlighted an important finding for living a longer, healthier and happier life. The result? Joy. The study found that those in supportive and healthy relationships were more likely to live well and longer than those who reported loneliness. Does this surprise you? Probably not. God wired us for connection. We can enjoy solitude but we were not created to live in solitude.
Joy is mentioned more than 100 times in the Bible. In almost every mention of joy, you will find the presence of relationship – not with people, but with God.
As Ezra read Scripture to the Israelites, they began grieving the relationship they believed was lost with their God. Nehemiah intervened and told them to not only enjoy the festival but to give generously to others for the joy of the Lord is their strength. He turned them toward a relationship with one another and with God.
We are facing our own festival. Happiness during the Christmas season is fleeting, as happiness and excitement can turn quickly into tears and exhaustion.
Christmas is not about opening gifts or the family dinner, which may bring temporary happiness. It is about celebrating the birth of Christ who was sacrificed so we could have eternal life with him. God wants us near him. He wants us to know the joy that comes with being in relationship with him.
As Nehemiah points out, joy can be present through grief and the most difficult circumstances. It is present when there are no gifts under the tree and it is present when we are far away, physically or emotionally, from loved ones. Because God is always near and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available to all who seek them.
We were called to live in the Spirit and to keep in step with the Spirit. The joy that brings true longevity is found in our relationship with God.
Written by Amy Curtis, director of counseling at Buckner International.