Joy, which is infinitely better than comfort and happiness, is freely and readily available.

We have many opportunities for despair. Civil society is hardly civil. Partisanship is at an all-time high. Cultural decline is rapid. We read regularly of terrorist attacks abroad. We know that even though they are only occasionally successful, these same terrorists are feverishly working to do on American soil what they are doing elsewhere. Prices outpace wages. Many have forgotten their responsibility to the poor. Many others have forgotten their responsibility to care for themselves. Many, if not most of us, deal with a friend or relative who is addicted to alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, pornography, gambling, etc. Racial distrust keeps many of us from being able to see issues rationally and thus solutions are not found. Large numbers in our society have difficulty functioning because of a struggle with depression. Crushing debt is crippling every level of government as well as families. The pressures of materialism surrounding Christmas and the pressures brought on by family gatherings and work-place holiday parties create much misery for those already in crisis because of the problems described above. But . . . there is good news, no, rather great news!

Joy, which is infinitely better than comfort and happiness, is freely and readily available. The circumstances described above are not the problem. They are symptoms of the real problem. The real problem is separation from God. Mankind is created in the image of God and created for fellowship with God. Certainly, the image is marred and corrupted almost beyond recognition. Our sin has made the image of God in us virtually impossible to see. The aforementioned symptoms are indisputable evidence. Certainly the intended fellowship has been broken. In the most loving act imaginable, God has made a way for us to be restored to the relationship for which we were created. God the Father sent God the Son to earth to live among fallen creatures, to become one of them. God the Son willingly left His throne in heaven to be vilely mistreated by those He came to help. On the cross, Father and Son experienced exactly that which is mankind's problem: separation and broken fellowship. The sinless, innocent Christ's payment on the cross for our sin made it possible for us to be restored to right relationship with God, and thus the ability to have joy. King David, after repenting of multiple heinous sins, wrote: "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation" (Psalm 51:12, NASU).

So during this Christmas season as circumstances and pressures pile up on you, rather than succumb to despair why not respond with grace under pressure? Many around you are struggling to bear up under some very heavy weight. Your gracious behavior will be a fragrant aroma of life to many who desperately need it. (2 Cor. 2:14-16) But you may have the ability to do much, much more. Our traditions tell us to give gifts during this holiday season. If you know Christ as your Savior, you are in possession of the greatest gift of all, the gospel. Many around you are in desperate need of the good news that Jesus stands ready to forgive, reconcile, and restore. Because of the pressures of the Christmas season and because of the pressures already mentioned, many people are more ready to listen to a gospel presentation. The pressures they feel just may help them to see that they cannot face life alone, thus leading them to see that they will not be able to face death alone either. They need a Savior who will bring real joy now and eternity in heaven to boot. Please do not horde this most precious of all gifts. Share the love of the Savior they desperately need.

Pastor Steve Ellison is the director of the Ouachita Theological Training Institute in Mena, Ark.