This year, I plan on wishing everyone a “Very Joyful Christmas.”
I’m planning on it. I’ll probably forget every now and then and go with the old standard “Merry Christmas.” Some people like a good “Happy Christmas.” Or the new (relatively) “Happy Holidays,” to be more inclusive. Or even a “Season’s Greetings.” I never really cared for that one: it seems a little impersonal and overly generic. Which “season” and which “greeting” did you have in mind? I think you should be able to be specific. And it could be winter or Advent or Christmas or Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, Pancha Ganapati or others.
No, I’m going with “Joyful Christmas.” Here’s why.
Not everyone is merry or happy. For some, merriment is overwhelmed by grief, loneliness, pain, poverty, illness, unemployment or simply stress.
But true joy – that’s something different. I believe everyone, somewhere deep in our hearts, everyone may find joy. Sure, it can be happiness and merriment and all smiles and laughter. It can be, but it is more than that: true joy, that’s something that goes to the very core of who we are, the very deepest corner of our hearts, the very darkest place, and brings light.
I believe that true joy is found in the moment in which we find God present in our lives in a way which brings wholeness to our spirit. There may be happiness, there may also be comfort and peace, a sense of rightness and a sense of certainty, but, most of all, of love.
Someone said that the real joy of Christmas isn’t in the presents under the tree, but in the presence of God in our lives. At Christmas, that becomes real in the baby born in Bethlehem. Jesus came into the world so that we would rekindle our relationship with God, so that we might see the light of joy in the darkness. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” writes the author of the Gospel of John, the “light of the world” became real. Christina Rossetti wrote “Love came down at Christmas” with that same message. In living the Way of Jesus, we bring that presence to our everyday lives.
Still, joy is often not the first thing we feel. The way to joy can take us through pain and grief, struggle and disappointment. I know that it is easy to say and harder to live, but at the heart – the heart – of any feeling of loss is the remembering of that which has been lost. The physical experience may be past, but we re-member and it grows in our living on. In our disappointments, is it possible that we might find some joy in having done our best, or learned how to do our best from it? Is it possible for us to look past the disappointment of an unsuitable gift and look more closely at the giver? Can we find more in the relationship we have with that person, than the pair of bright orange socks they gave us for Christmas?
This is the story. God gave a baby, born to a poor couple who probably feared the questions people would ask about his parentage as much as they feared being able to afford to feed him. The baby was born with little help in a dirty stable, far from home. Angels didn’t tell the wealthy or the wise first, they told poor, struggling shepherds that nobody really appreciated or respected. The magi who came with gold, frankincense and myrrh had to work hard to follow the star and when they found the baby, they barely escaped with their lives. Lots of children didn’t, thanks to Herod’s fear.
There’s lots in the Christmas story that’s about struggle and pain and fear. But at it’s heart is simply this: the joy of a moment of new life. In that new life is the promise of the future. For all of us.
May this Christmas bring you joy.