Sheptock, Rudy

Pastor Rudy Sheptock.

I want you to think about at least one song that gives you the blues at Christmas time. What yuletide carols expose the emptiness and loneliness that you feel inside?

Rather than fill your heart with joy, when these tunes are played, they make you experience the pain of someone poking your heart with an icepick. Not everyone is up for a holly-jolly December.

There is a lot of music associated with Christmas. Some of it is childlike, some of it brings hope, and some of it, not so much.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the words, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light. From now on, your troubles will be out of sight." This song debuted in the musical “Meet Me in St. Louis,” starring Judy Garland and the greatest crier to grace the big screen, Margaret O’Brien.

When Judy holds Margaret in her arms to sing what would become a classic, it is far from a happy, touching scene. The clip is downright dark and gloomy.

Judy and Margaret play sisters, and they are about to leave St. Louis with the rest of their family at the turn of the century, when the World’s Fair is coming to town, and relocate to New York City. No one wants to go, and everybody is putting on a brave face, but on the inside, their world is collapsing.

Judy sings to try to cheer Margaret up. It backfires because, as soon as the song is over, Margaret O’Brien suffers a major breakdown and goes outside in her nightgown to knock over her snow people with a baseball bat. It could have been worse.

As alternative lyrics to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” Judy could have sung, "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last. Next year, we may all be living in the past."  Now that certainly doesn’t put fresh winds of optimism beneath your sails. Aren’t you happy that the writers changed it to the more optimistic version that we are all familiar with?

We are moving away from the only home we have ever known, to go to a place that none of us want to be, and even though we’re going to leave all of our loved ones behind, let’s somehow have a Merry Christmas in spite of nothing going right.

For many people, the holiday season is the most dreaded time of year. December can be a real pressure point because expectations are so high, which can create more disappointment. Because we all are looking to have the best Christmas ever, we tend to over magnify our problems, be even harder on our imperfections, and beat ourselves up for falling far short of the currier and ives perfect portrait.

If you are by nature a type A busy person, it is a sure bet that you will be busier and more stressed to make up for any lost time in December. If your family relationships are strained, this time of the year can be really tough because there is always pressure to pretend that they are better than they are. Even the genuine Waltons weren’t like the Waltons we watched on television.

Joni Mitchell penned the words, “It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace. Oh, I wish I had a river, I could skate away on. But it don't snow here, it stays pretty green. I'm gonna make a lot of money, then I'm gonna quit this crazy scene, I wish I had a river, I could skate away on."

Maybe, where you are in the present is so depressing that a nostalgic, but not necessarily an accurate, look at Christmas past doesn't make today better.

Where are those songs of joy and peace that Joni sings about? What are they? Where is that life that was far simpler back then?

Has living always been such a struggle? What is the solution to bring lasting peace and purpose to the chaos taking place all around us?

America may have more stuff under the tree than anybody else, but it has lost its soul in the pursuit causing us to become a deeply unhappy nation. Unless we get specific about receiving the gift that God gave to us in that stable 2000 years ago, all we will do is proceed in going thru the motions of trying to find meaning in a hectic season when it only can be discovered in knowing the Savior personally.

I don’t care how many decorations you put on a Christmas tree, if it is artificial and dead, there is nothing you can do to make it come alive. Only God can do that. Have you allowed Him to do that in you?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who can't wait for the Christmas season to be over. If you can believe it, one survey found that 45% of Christians dread the holiday season. We are told that Christmas should be the most wonderful time of year, yet, according to the National Institute of Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience the highest incidence of depression.

Hospitals and police forces report the highest incidences of suicide and attempted suicide. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. There is not much there to sing and shout about.

When will we learn that we aren't going to find happiness in Christmas traditions, unless they flow out of the truth and fruit of a real relationship with Jesus? We won't find happiness by buying bigger and better Christmas presents, if God’s presence is not at the center of it all. We won't find happiness by watching more Hallmark Christmas movies, complete with scripted happy endings, if we haven’t discovered that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus.

Christmas' literal meaning is the celebration of the Christ. God loved the world and sent us His Son, and He delivered Him in a place where even the lowliest shepherd would be welcomed to find Him.

The greatest need in our world today is the greatest need that mankind has always had, and that is receiving the gift of real love.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king.” We can’t speak for the planet, but we can decide for ourselves.

Are you looking for love in all the right places? Are you seeing real grace and peace in the right faces? Maybe, to get it right, we need to ignore what the world is saying and listen to what the word has communicated to us.

I just read the horrible news that 67% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. I know that society has gotten that one wrong.

I have two brothers with Down syndrome, and I wish I was more like them than I wish that they were like me. Only God has the right to define what lives are valuable and what lives can be thrown away.

Kathy Troccoli will be doing a Christmas concert at The Lighthouse Church, Dec. 7-8, at 6 p.m. Tickets are free, and you can get as many as you want by calling the church at (609) 465-6690.

During that program, an offering will be taken, and 100% of it will go to an organization called “Up For Downs.”

Kathy sings, “Go Light Your World,” and I can’t think of a better way to strike a match for those who need our voice to speak up for them.

God so loved that He gave. God is a Giver. Maybe, there would be more meaning if we received the King and shared Him with everyone.

Knowing Jesus has kept me alive this long despite the many darts and arrows that have tried to steal my joy. Do you know Him?

ED. NOTE: The author is the senior pastor of The Lighthouse Church, 1248 Route 9 South, Court House.