My son is asking for a car this Christmas. He’s four. He started asking one month ago. And I— foolishly—thought it would be an idea that waned with time. Not so much. He gets fixated on things and doesn’t let go. Which can only mean one thing. Christmas morning is sure to be a little disappointing for my boy.

He is his mother’s son. I can relate. I have a long history of being a bit of a wreck on Christmas. I love anticipation, hype, excitement. But I hate the letdown. And every Christmas, with big hopes and expectations, comes the potential for big let down.

Growing up, it would be over not getting the right toy, size or style. As I’ve gotten older, the let downs are more significant. I’m sure many of you can relate. It seems Christmastime is when the gap is the greatest between the expectation of how things should be and the reality of how things are. It’s a season of hope often followed by a twinge of disenchantment.

It’s hectic family gatherings that require more emotional stability and grace than you feel equipped to handle.

It’s unresolved tensions that result in icy silence or fiery explosions.

It’s childhood magical dreams subtly morphing into incessant demands.

It’s the sense of loss…
of the spouse who isn’t there.
the children who aren’t coming home.
the parents whose absence feels more acute and intense than any other time of the year.

It should be peaceful. Joyful. Hopeful. Magical. And yet, for many, it simply isn’t.

The tension lies in wanting to reclaim the season we want in light of the season we have.

But what if making that happen didn’t have to involve a life renovation? Lewis Smedes writes, “Joy is gratitude,” meaning.

Joy is accessible.
Joy doesn’t have to be a scarcity.
It isn’t happiness.
It isn’t perfection.
It isn’t pretending things aren’t how they really are. It isn’t pasted on smiles and selective memory or hearing. And it’s not just “holding it together.”

Joy is gratitude for what is right even when so much isn’t.

We can be joyful. Because we can be grateful, even in all the difficulty that Christmas may bring. Do we want to un-complicate Christmas?

Then let’s get back to the basics. Look for the good. Look for the right. Look for a reason—any reason at all—to be grateful. Don’t worry about bringing joy to the whole world, but work at bringing joy enough to your world.

Our schedules may be busy.

Our families may be dysfunctional.

Our kids—as hard as we are working to ensure otherwise—may appear to be missing the point of Christmas all together.

But despite all that may be working against us, we have the opportunity to set the tone in a season that was intended to remind us of how involved our God is—at all times. Let’s first be thankful for that.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book of Christmas reflections simply called “God Is In The Manger”. In my opinion, I’m not sure he needed to write much more beyond the title. Because that just about sums it up as neatly and beautifully as possible.

The God who made it all, entered it all.
The God behind it all, included us all.
God is in the manger, and all may not be right in the world, but enough is right in the world.

Yes, joy is gratitude. And we can be grateful that regardless of how we feel over the coming weeks, the unshakable reality is that God showed up 2,000 years ago.

If we refuse to rush through that, if we insist on embracing the miracle that already was in the first Christmas, we may be surprised with a miracle all our own—discovering that though our reality falls short of our deeply felt desires, our joy doesn’t have to.