It’s Christmas and social media is awash with cheerful family photos, abundant dinner spreads and merry well wishes. For so many this holiday represents the best of humanity and the closeness of family and loved ones.

It isn’t like that for everyone, of course. In Syria and around the world families suffer unimaginable horrors even as we complain about free elections and gender wars. Closer to home, not all are feeling cheerful this Christmas Eve. Sometimes there is no cheer to be had.

My husband lost his two brothers in a tragic accident many years ago. There was certainly no cheer in many of the following holiday seasons. A friend lost her son earlier this year and it’s a safe bet cheer isn’t on the menu tonight. Others of us have been disconnected from family for a long time and the holidays just serve to remind us about our loneliness and love lost. Some are sick and dying or watching someone they love dying.

Good cheer won’t find everyone this year…but Joy is still the central theme of Christmas and that belongs to all of us.

The pain of loss, rejection, even war is the very reason for the Joy of Christmas. As morbid as it sounds, those who are experiencing heartache this weekend are probably the very closest to knowing real Joy. That is because that pain, that utter, all-encompassing ache that washes over us in the wake of grief and tragedy is exactly why Christ was given to us.

He came to us weak and powerless, the lowest station that society at that time had to offer. He was a baby with no voice, no agency and no control. He was born in a barn, surrounded by dirt, animal feces and slop. He was born to a mother who had already endured great shame for bearing him in the first place. A great King came as an unwanted reject.

He deserved to come in glory and circumstance, but his path brought him low, not high. Yet, that birth was the most significant in the world, in all of history. He came for the low, to make them royalty. His birth is the living embodiment of hope, the fulfillment of an ancient battle against sin and despair. It was the signal that there will one day be an end to the pain. Jesus isn’t just the hope…He is Hope. He is Love. The nouns.  He is the very definition.

If you are are hurting today you are blessed and favored because you are occupying the closest proximity to real Hope. It is when one’s need is the greatest that they are most open to His miracle. That is what Joy is – it is not the absence of pain, but the presence of a Helper to guide one through pain and toward peace.

When you feel powerless and cold and covered in sh*t you can take some small comfort in knowing that is exactly how the King of all Kings came into the world. He knows just how you feel.

In the “end” (if we Christians can ever really employ such a term) that poor, dirty baby will return in all the pageantry we would expect from a royal visitor. For today, we recognize him as that baby whose birth is the beginning of real Joy even as cheer eludes us this season.

To those who are in pain and nursing wounds that seem as though they can never heal – you are not obligated to feel cheerful. Cheer may come down the road, it may not. Cheer comes and goes.

But Joy is yours. Joy has literally sacrificed everything to find you and grip you. Joy seeks to give you comfort, to lead you to peace.  As impossible as those things may feel right now, Joy is the conquerer of pain. This date is when we Westerners have decided to welcome that Joy and to remind each other that Joy is not dependent on our current circumstances but on a wee babe who became a King.

Our Savior is born!

Wishing you and everyone you love a Joyful Christmas and a peace beyond all understanding.