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Dearly Beloved,
Family picture fail..... have you ever had one? I can think of a few. One of them actually looks just fine. The 'failure' was found in the constant effort to wrangle our then toddlers and get a smile out of them timed perfectly with the click of the camera. We got it. Barely. We're all smiling, but that was the only moment that we smiled. Everything else about that time was stressful - for all of us. 
Maybe you know what it's like to be told to smile when you don't feel like it. Doesn't feel right does it? Doesn't feel real.
There's an interesting collision that can occur for us around Christmas time. The word joy is seen and heard more often. But we don't always feel it, do we? 
Some years Christmas joy comes easily.
Other years, we're left wondering. 
Perhaps this is a good intersection at which we could reconsider our understanding of joy. 
Here are a few quick thoughts that could help:
  1. There is a difference between happiness and joy. Confusing the two could be what causes that 'collision' to occur at times. 
  2. Happiness is more circumstantial and experienced in the emotional realm.
  3. Biblical joy, while more than able to touch our emotions, does not rely on temporal circumstance or emotion in order to be experienced. 
Maybe we should think about the fact that the Bible even commands joy (see Philippians 4.4). Wait, what? Is the Bible forcing us to smile for the picture even when we don't feel like it? Is the Bible telling us to pretend to be happy? 
And, no. 
The Bible is calling us to recalibrate our thinking to the new realities that broke into our world through Jesus. Although circumstances and emotions can be quite bleak at times, something new and real has occurred that has changed everything forever. Let's let the angel who addressed the shepherds deliver this same message to us now:
"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people: Today in the town of Bethlehem a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. " Luke 2.11
Translation: God has come to your life and to your world. He's come to rescue and to renew. 
The reality of what began in and through the arrival, life, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus is still being implemented in our world. One day it will culminate in full. In the 'in-between' in which we now live we find the realness of moments when we don't feel happy (yes, sometimes even at Christmas time) because of the difficulty and disfigurement of things yet to be reached by the incoming rescue and renewal of God.
But we have this joy: we know it has come and we know it is coming. 
Imagine what it may have been like to live in a time before the advent of these Jesus-centred realities. What might that have felt like for you? 
Joy to the world, the Lord has come! 
Pastor Mike