"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus... who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross...."
-- Hebrews 12:2
If my Christmas mail is any indication, not everyone is echoing the angels' "tidings of great joy" this year.
"Not a good year," writes one friend who usually has nothing but glowing, upbeat news to report.
"Barbara, this is Linda," the caller said as I shook the sleep from my eyes. The post-midnight hour signaled her depression long before her sobbing voice confirmed it.
Merry, merry, merry Christmas, everyone! Come to my party! "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!"
Or not. For some in your circle and mine, there is little joy in their world this Christmas.
Joy, even at Christmas time, can be an elusive thing. It doesn't appear on many wish lists. I've never heard a child whisper to Santa, "I want a big box of joy for Christmas." Advertisers don't tout it, stores don't package it, and friends don't wrap it in frilly boxes for those they love. Joy is a thought, a song, an abstract that's lost in the quest for gifts we can see, touch, play with, or admire. Joy is something other people have. Maybe there's just not enough of it to go around.
But like "the peace that passes all understanding" and "the truth that sets us free" which Jesus also brought to earth 2,000 years ago, the joy he brings doesn't conform to the jolly, party-going, merry time we associate with Christmas, either.
I caught a glimpse of that divine joy when I played the piano for a senior citizen's party a few Christmases ago. Walkers, canes and other signs of physical impairment were more common that day than jingle-bell earrings and Christmas sweatshirts, but nothing was wrong with their voices. They sang every carol they could think of and asked for more. Finally, as the program drew to a close, an attendant whispered to me, "This lady wants us to sing something that's not a Christmas song. Can you play, "Yes, Jesus Loves Me?"
Not a Christmas song? Joy enters the world because "the Lord who really, really loves us is come." The caroling lady knows that because "the Bible tells me so," not because she finds everything she wants under the Christmas tree. Gifts and joyous events may occur throughout our lives, but new babies grow up, bodies wear out, and gifts we want so much lose their luster with time. As my consoling auto mechanic would say, "Nothing stays new forever." Translation: nothing material ever lives up to our expectations. Nothing we can box, buy, or build will ever give us a continuous supply of joy.
For joy is like a well that never runs dry, not the cup of water that satisfies us until we are thirsty again. Joy is the water at the bottom of the river, undisturbed by winds that ruffle the surface. Joy is uncontainable. It can't be boxed or wrapped in red, green, or gold. It's not seasonal, and it's not something we lose when it hasn't been a good year or sadness disturbs our sleep.
I've known tragedy, too. Sometimes my Christmas cards report a difficult year, or someone else's phone rings because I'm the one who is depressed.
But also, like those who share my faith in a Savior whose love and forgiveness bring a peace we can't define in earthly terms and a truth that can't be slanted or analyzed away, I know my disappointments are just like the material trappings of Christmas: they won't last, either.
But the "yes-Jesus-loves-me" joy that came to your world and mine 2,000 years ago will last forever.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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