The Christmas season is officially upon us.  Peppermint has replaced pumpkin spice, colorful lights twinkle from rooftop eaves and pictures of stockings and trees have been flooding social media for weeks.

The events of 2020 have led many to embrace the joys of the holiday with renewed vigor. Even my adamant “post-turk” friends (those who oppose anything Christmas-related appearing before Thanksgiving) found themselves succumbing to a need to bring the yuletide cheer a little early this year.

This enhanced desire for joy is hardly surprising. The challenges we’ve faced individually, and as a society, weigh heavily upon our hearts and our minds.

Massive wildfires in Australia, heightened racial tensions in America, a global pandemic, unexpected celebrity deaths and the introduction of murder hornets have made it feel like we’re all trapped in an apocalyptic B movie with more twists than actual plot. Loss is prevalent—loss of jobs, loss of lives and the loss of any sense of normalcy. Perhaps the most widely felt, however, is the loss of presence. As grateful as we are for the technology that has made this year bearable, we long to be with one another again in real, unhindered community.

This inherent need for presence is precisely what makes Christmas so joyous, for in this season we encounter Emmanuel—God with us. The weight of glory of those three little words is immense. God did not create us only to abandon us or watch us from afar, but rather He sent His only Son to live among us and bring salvation to mankind through His life, death, and resurrection. As fully God and fully man, Christ identifies with us on the deepest level and intercedes for us on the highest.

Though He no longer abides physically on earth, Christ has not left us alone. When we trust Him as our Lord and Savior, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit—God in us. This means we never have to endure a moment without His presence. He is right there with us, even as we isolate, quarantine and social distance. The Spirit’s presence is more pervasive than this pandemic and more healing than even the best vaccine. Joy to the world, indeed!

To be sure, this Christmas will look markedly different for many. Hearts will grieve as long-standing traditions are broken and loved ones are missing from the table. Our world is weary, but there is reason to rejoice, and God calls each of us to be vessels of that Good News.

Perhaps God is allowing our traditions to be stripped away, to turn our hearts and minds back to Him and to our true purpose. Take some time to think of a way (or many ways) you can shine the light of the Gospel into the brokenness around you this holiday season and introduce others to the thrill of hope found in the presence of the Lord.