For The Joy

For The Joy December 21, 2023

Joy is a central part of Christmas celebrations. So I was sad when I heard Christmas celebrations were cancelled in Bethlehem this year. It is not the saddest I have ever been. But then again, it is impossible for me to imagine the threat under which some Christians live. I cannot imagine being forced out of my ancestral home, losing my culture and community, and threatened with death because I exist. How can people in such circumstances find joy?

Is Joy Possible?

During an outdoor service for houseless people in my city, a fellow stopped me to ask if I knew the parable of “the woman who lost a coin?” I told him I did, and I would find it for him after the service.

We sat together as I opened my Bible to Luke 15 and read the parable. He ate a small can of tuna while he listened. Once I finished he smile and said, “Yes, that’s it.” I cannot help wondering if he saw himself as the lost coin? What other reason could there be? I do not know. How often do we read ourselves into a parable?

Whatever the case may be, he demonstrated joy in hearing the story.

Not Christmas Unless

Sometimes people are so tied to a particular tradition that something is missing without it. “It just is not Christmas without…” I feel this way sometimes. Is my joy robbed? It can happen. We should not let it happen. Pastors know how certain rituals are expected every year by the people who attend Christmas Eve service. These rituals make Christmas for some people. It is interesting to me having served two “contemporary” worship congregations to hear congregants wanting something more traditional on that night. I always obliged them. I ask though are we robbed of joy if we ignore new traditions?

Joy Among Sorrows

The gospel of John does not give us a nativity story. But it declares, “Light shines in darkness.” And the darkness cannot do anything about it. People die in December, and we complain about such a loss being so close to Christmas. It is not fair. One would be callous to try to make anything else out of it but loss. Yet, joy is its own foolishness. And we do not let circumstances rob us of it. We tell humorous tails about the lost loved one. At a funeral of a friend this December, I laughed with everyone else at the descriptions made about the loving yet grouchy old man who charted his walking and hiking miles on separate spread sheets. To outsiders, that must have sounded bizarre. But anyone who worked with the man knew it was one of his quirks.

The Gift of Folly

If a child asks me if I believe in Santa Claus, I do not hesitate. Yes, I do. No explanation is necessary. And I am not lying to the child. It may very well be folly. But if Santa is real to that child, then he is to me too. And if he is real to me, Santa becomes more real to that child. For anyone who says that I should know better, ask yourself why you never get coal in your stocking.

Possessing the gift of folly is being joyful enough to laugh at one’s self. Granted some people do not understand it. One day they may. Dickens plays a strange prank on Scrooge. Early in the story Scrooge looks down on his nephew Fred and his own clerk Bob because they had no business being merry. It is folly for people with little to be merry in the winter. Later, he sees the poverty of Bob’s family and takes their joy seriously. He is serious about Tim’s illness. He is very serious about it all. And that is the folly of the main character.

For the Sake of Joy

I hope someone in Bethlehem can find joy this year. It would be beautiful for it to spread. Yet, I cannot think of what it would look like. The nativity stories give examples of joy within suffering and dangerous situations. Joy is light in darkness. It is beauty within desolation. Laugh at the joyful fool all you want. You are still laughing.

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