The year was 2008, and I lacked my usual enthusiasm for Christmas.
The four weeks of Advent usually are filled with activities that prepare us for a worthy celebration of Christmas. Among the activities that truly enrich my spirit are Christmas music programs, children's pageants, Christmas dramas, Christmas parties with friends, family gatherings, Bible study and personal and corporate worship.
In the past, my excitement has grown week by week during Advent. I come through those four weeks with gratitude for the events of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ and the lasting significance of that in my own life and the life of our world.
During Advent 2008, however, I felt no joy. I didn't want to send Christmas cards or decorate a Christmas tree or do my Christmas shopping or baking. I know some of that was grief caused by the recent death of my husband almost two months before Christmas. I suspected, however, it might be something even deeper.
One night I prayed earnestly that I would once again know the joy and comfort of the season. In fact, I prayed my favorite and most sincere prayer: "Lord, I can't; you can; please do. Thanks!"
The following morning while cleaning a closet, I found an old devotional booklet. The author suggested if we are having difficulty feeling the real meaning of Christmas, we should visit certain kneeling places on our annual trip to Bethlehem. With each visit I made, I could feel the joy beginning to bubble up inside my spirit.
Among the ones that helped me most were memories of Christmases past; my home of origin; worship to recall the events of the first Christmas and their significance to me personally and to the entire world; and the kneeling place of service -- a commitment to do an act of loving service for someone.
For example, I spent an afternoon remembering happy Christmases past. I found myself laughing about the first Christmas Ralph and I were married and gave each other the wrong sizes; or the hours we spent assembling toys so Santa could arrive on time for our two sons. I remembered the sad Christmas just after the death of our 20-year-old son and the comfort of our faith.
The author suggested visiting our homes of origin for any unfinished business such as needed forgiveness or the expression of gratitude. In my own case, I had thought too often of the difficulties and not often enough of the good things my parents had given us.
After remembering and giving thanks for the good things, I was filled with gratitude for my blessings. Long before I got to the kneeling places of worship and service (though I visited each of these), my heart was singing as I remembered the angels' message of "good tidings of great joy."
Do you need to jump-start the Christmas spirit in your heart? Try visiting the kneeling places en route to Bethlehem.
Nell Mohney is a Christian author, motivational speaker and seminar leader. She may be reached at nell firstname.lastname@example.org.