It’s Not a Merry Christmas
James 1:2 says “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds.” This verse appeared on the social media feeds of several prominent Christian leaders this year, each of them extolling their followers not to feel downtrodden. Some like Dr. Neil Smith have built entire sermons off of this premise. 
Although the message is certainly well-intentioned, to some, the use of this verse may feel like a slap in the face, as though God somehow wants us to stick a smiley face sticker on a bullet wound. At this time of the year, many people would normally be gathering with their loved ones, observing traditions that have been annual rituals for their entire lifetimes, but instead, many of us are alone, depressed, broke, and fearful. According to a Centers for Disease Control study published in August, approximately 41 percent of Americans reported a decline in their mental health. 
Fortunately, God is not so unfeeling. While it is true that God calls us to find joy in Him, He acknowledges that this world is full of sorrows, and comes to us as a great comforter. As it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
It is not God who expects us to be happy, even as our heart breaks for a world engulfed in suffering. If there are any such expectations, they come from the fallible human beings that comprise the earthly church.
Sometimes, it is okay for things not to be okay. As Christians, we can give voice to our sorrows through the Psalms of David, which cry out with lamentation such as Psalm 6:3 “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?”
If you need any reminders of how much this year has tried the patience of this world, you can consider a list published by the New York Post which included highlights such as the Australian bushfires, COVID-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and the arrival of murder hornets in the United States. 
There is no sense in denying how difficult this year has been. Encouraging one another to “look on the bright side” might seem like the only right thing to do at the moment, however, this, itself, has the potential to make things worse. In the words of psychotherapist Carolyn Karroll, this is a kind of toxic positivity that puts pressure on people to appear to be okay and “invalidates the range of emotions we all experience.” 
There are certainly things to be grateful for, however, in this dark season, it is okay to cry out to God for relief. As Psalm 91:2 states” I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." It is not a “merry” Christmas but in this season of sadness, let us reach out to Christ for comfort and pour our sorrows out to the Lord.
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 Jackie Salo, “2020 events so far: Yep, these major world events all happened this year,” New York Post (November 10, 2020) https://nypost.com/list/major-2020-events/
 Faith Church Kingstowne, “May 3, 2020: Count it All Joy? Are You Serious? (Pastor Neil),” YouTube (May 8, 2020), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5VxCBtb60s&feature=emb_logo
 Simone M. Scully, “‘Toxic Positivity’ Is Real — and It’s a Big Problem During the Pandemic,” Healthline (2020), https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/toxic-positivity-during-the-pandemic#What-is-toxic-positivity?
 “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020,” Centers for Disease Control (August 14, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm