Opinion | Anderson: When the joy of Christmas escapes you
Walking our faith
Betty is one of the seasonal members of our Wednesday Prayer Shawl Knitters and continues to read this column even when she’s home in Des Moines, Iowa. I only know this because she was in town this week and mentioned that she knew from last week’s column that I’d be writing about joy this week and she had an interesting story to share.
Recently she had an email exchange with her sister with this question: What makes you happy? To her surprise she discovered that she and her sister had very different definitions about how they measured happiness. Next, she shared that recently she’d walked into a shop and saw a wallet of a type that she had admired for years and she finally decided to buy it for herself and she expressed how this simple act brought her joy, and she threw out to the knitting group, what brings you joy?
As Betty discovered, our measure of what counts as joy in our lives can vary widely even from those we are related to. My understanding of joy is different today than it was at the beginning of this week. Isn’t it interesting how definitions of words, especially those we take for granted, can change when we finally sit down to contemplate not only their meaning but their place in our lives?
I read somewhere that the meaning of God’s grace is unmerited or undeserved favor. In other words we did nothing to earn a particular outcome and yet we received it. Gratefully, I hope. I am beginning to think joy is similar to grace.
At the beginning of this week I was praying for joy. It’s been lacking from my life and like catching the wind, capturing joy has eluded my best efforts. The joy I hoped for was a breakthrough for something I had worked hard for, a feeling of achievement was my definition of joy.
But the joy I experienced this week came in the way God‘s grace comes, out of the blue, unmerited, but so very much needed. On Wednesday afternoon I was on my way into City Market as I returned a phone call from Heidi, my sister-in-law. When I reached her, she told me that she and my brother John wanted to buy a ticket for me to visit my mother for Christmas. Standing in front of the canned vegetables I burst into tears. This was a moment of joy for me. Just minutes earlier I had been considering how much I missed Mom and how lonely Christmas would be without her.
If you read along with me this past week in the second chapter of Luke, we found another source of great joy in Luke Chapter 2. We read the following: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over the flocks at night and an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified but the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you, you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
I’ve tried to visualize that scene and what I am struck by is the feeling of joy expressed not only by the shepherds but by the angels delivering the message. I imagine it was an event of such magnitude that joy literally filled the night sky with cosmic fireworks never seen before or since.
And this is what joy feels like for us on a smaller scale. We can go for months or years, alone on a desolate plain like the shepherds, and suddenly our life is torn apart by the heraldic announcement of an angel of God. Or at least that’s what we hope for.
But what do we do in the months or years of waiting without joy?
I’ve heard that luck is where hard work meets opportunity. And maybe joy is similar. Perhaps we cannot conjure joy, perhaps removing the element of surprise would diminish the pleasure of joy. What if instead of looking for joy outside ourselves, for a joy that is fleeting, we try to create joy for others through kindness and goodwill? And perhaps in that way open the door for joy to enter our own lives?
Or perhaps real joy cannot be found outside ourselves but can only be cultivated in our hearts. And I propose that the only joy that will burn forever in our hearts, rather than the weak embers outside ourselves, is the joy to be found in a deep, sustaining relationship with God.
“Though the fig tree does not bud / and there are no grapes on the vines, / though the olive crop fails / and the fields produce no food, / though there are no sheep in the pen / and no cattle in the stalls, / yet I will rejoice in the Lord, / I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12: 12)
Perhaps joy is the culmination of hope and faith, come to fruition not by our own doing, but through the unwavering joy of discovering God’s love for us never dims, but only grows stronger as we seek him.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)
I believe that one of our greatest challenges, especially during this season of bright lights and exuberant Christmas marketing, is believing the lie that everyone is sharing a full house with laughing loved ones, except us. Loneliness is a terrible burden during this time of year and yes, it is felt even in the rooms of a full house. And loneliness can feel like the farthest thing from joy. Which is why I want you to remember this: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He takes great delight in you; in his love he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
You are loved. You are God’s joy, which is a joy that never dims or wavers.
This week we’ll read Luke Chapter 3. It’s a long chapter full of names. Take your time and read a few verses each day. Read thoughtfully and ask God to fill your heart with the joy of his love for you. See you next week, my friend.
Suzanne Anderson lives in Breckenridge.
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