It’s the week before Christmas and for what seems like the seventeenth time I’m propping up an outdoor decoration that keeps getting knocked down by the wind. Not to mention that I’ve also been running around the driveway in my slippers chasing the blown about fake poinsettias that I put in the window boxes this year because the winter berries were gone before I could get into the woods.
Sorry to Joanna Gaines and all the farmhouse purists out there.
Earlier when I was trying to reflect on the reason for the season, I lit a Christmas candle to help me focus, but my thoughts drifted to the question of why, within the sphere of this entire universe, some people cannot seem to hang their coat in the closet instead of draping it over the dining room chair?
When I’ve questioned this, I’ve been given what some people think is a perfectly good explanation: I am just going to wear it tomorrow.
I think, well…I’m going to wear underwear tomorrow, too, but you don’t see me hanging it on the furniture. Do people even realize this draped clothing thing ruins the Christmas vibe I’m going for?
You know, deck them halls and all that stuff.
No, no, you don’t get it at all.
I mean Jingle Bells.
You know, Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls.
(Charles Schultz- A Charlie Brown Christmas)
My house is finally twinkled, the cookies are about to be sprinkled and I’ve ordered a prime rib for the first time. Of course my husband wonders if it will be big enough to feed everyone (real meaning: will there be leftovers?), and can I guarantee that it will be cooked to the proper medium rare? Also, will there be rolls?
Two, I hope so.
Three, only if the kids bring them.
I’ve stamped and tramped cards to the mailbox and I’ve mailed the one and only package I sent this year. I found the Christmas stockings. I added more lights by the stairs. I even got most of the wrapping done early. I won’t be wondering at midnight on Christmas Eve where the tape went even though I set it down Right Here next to the scissors a second ago.
So why is it that I sometimes find myself barely hanging onto joy?
I know that Christmas isn’t the source of my joy.
If anything, ’tis the season of striving for perfection and failing.
I know this.
I stopped Doing It All a long time ago.
Now I make Christmas cookies and string lights because I like to and because I think Christmas cookies are delicious and twinkle lights are pretty. But they don’t bring me the joy that I need like the air that I breathe.
Joy is like peace and hope. All three are a part of what we originally were to supposed to live with all the time, but joy and all the rest were stolen from us one day in a garden a long time ago. Ever since we are tempted to live toward sorrow and all that’s wrong.
Misery seems to be all over the place these days.
Case in point: Take the Misery Map. This is the name of the map you can check for delayed/canceled flights across the country. Never mind calling the airline. Just go get yourself some more misery by reading the Misery Map. Not only can you see where your miserable flight got messed up, you can see where everybody else’s miserable flight got messed up.
Now I agree that air travel can be a pain. However, the reality is we are able to fly across the country in the time it takes me to make all of my Christmas cookies, burn two batches of caramel popcorn and frost the chocolate yule log.
We no longer have to plod through sod for several weeks in a covered wagon fending off rattlesnakes and having to bury the milk cow along the way. All before we’ve gotten out of Ohio. Don’t even think about California. You do know there was a time when hardly anyone made it over the Rockies, right?
The thing is, misery loves company, but no one loves misery.
Misery is like the lonely guy at the bar with his half-empty glass. No one really wants to sit with him, but too many of us raise our half-empty glasses to him with a nod and an amen whenever he laments about how terrible life is.
Don’t get me wrong.
Life can be terrible.
Charles Dickens didn’t sugar coat the realities of incredible hardship when he published A Christmas Carol 175 years, plus two days ago; a small book he hoped would infuse some joy into the bleak London landscape.
When we first meet the Ghost of Christmas Present, the joy he exudes has taken over the room. He is big and loud and full of color and sparkle. Scrooge, like so many of us, stands dumbfounded at the jolly giant and seems to think this kind of joy is a bit over the top. This guy just may have a screw loose.
Real Joy is like that.
It doesn’t make sense.
Near the end of the chapter after walking through the sorrows of Scrooge’s grim and pinched life, we see the Ghost of Christmas Present has grown smaller, quieter, grayer.
Before he departs he gives Scrooge an unlikely gift.
Two twisted, broken children appear from beneath his cloak and Scrooge sees for the first time the raw reality of the human condition. Their depravity is hard to see. Scrooge asks who they belong to.
`They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. `And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.
Scrooge was given the gift of awareness and the opportunity to affect change. In his life and in the lives of others. He was given a gift that goes above and beyond happenstance.
Because happiness depends on happenstance and happenstance is like cotton candy. Sugar on the tongue for a wee second, then it’s gone. This joy to the world we’re always singing about this time of year seems to flit around like a swirling snowflake, kissing our cheeks for a brief moment, only to melt away. This is what happiness is like, here one minute, gone the next, depending on whether you are enjoying a cup of hot chocolate watching It’s A Wonderful Life, or you’re running down the street chasing a fake poinsettia.
Joy is different. It doesn’t flit, it sticks.
It is rooted in the ground, into the fertile soil of our hearts, and nothing, no wind, no flight delay, no coats on chairs, no illness, no money, no death can uproot it. Joy is no sugar plum fairy. It is a forever thing and it’s not afraid to look pain in the eye. When it does, it points to his friend Hope, and Hope in turn points to the one Who came small and swaddled, kicking his feet in a feed trough. The savior of the world.
We are invited into Joy and not just at Christmas. Any time, any place, we can accept the invitation to Joy, the invitation to Jesus.
We are invited into a big room of Joy Full Ness, where we can live out our days with the rock solid assurance that, no matter what happens in this life, we are deeply deeply loved. We can be joyful in the middle of pain and suffering because hope is our companion.
We can look trouble in the eye and smile with the gladness that can only come from knowing what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
(Poinsettia, Ghost of Christmas Present and Misery Map courtesy of google images.)
The remaining photos are mine.