Monday, December 23, 2013

Joy...Unveiled


But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people  Luke 2:10

No matter how many Christmas services, Bible studies, pageants or plays I participate in, the above line belongs solely to the wispy voice of Linus from the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  You remember, right?  Charlie Brown, as he is oft wont to do, loses his cool...that probably sounds familiar when you were out shopping this weekend right?  He screams, "Doesn't any body know the true meaning of Christmas?"

That moment captures the modern day experience.  We try searching for the meaning of Christmas every year.  We know it is not found in stores...but we still check, just in case Target got a supply of Christmas meaning this year.  We know it is not found in racing from party to party to some other event until we fall exhausted into bed at night...but we still keep going because of social pressure.  Unfortunately, even the church, does not always seem to be able to answer Charlie's eternal question.  After all, we can get caught up in pageants and plans for Christmas Eve and did someone remember to order new candles and did someone remind the family about lighting the Advent wreath.  Wait, they are sick?  Great...I mean...prayers for them.

I wonder if the church adds to the cacophony or cuts through it?  Do we help people who every year struggle with Charlie's question, only to find themselves surrounded by shards of wrapping paper and empty boxes on Christmas afternoon thinking, "What is this day really all about?"

Enter Linus.  He tells a simply story of shepherds being surprised by an angel who has good news.  Good news, which is "gospel" really means, that is what we are all looking for, right?  Rather than story after story on the television about government bickering and violence and the blatant discrimination of the Russian government against gay and lesbian children of God.  We want, we long for, we thirst for good news.  

The tough question is, would we listen even if an angel showed up singing good news?  Or would we hold onto a smidgen of skepticism?   Do we think that one tiny child can really change the whole world?  After all, the shepherds would go back, praising God, telling others...then what?  It was not like the next day Jesus was a grown adult, preaching and healing people.  

If scholars are right, Jesus' ministry began some time when he was thirty years old.  How many times did those shepherds think they were crazy for going to the stable that night?  How many of the shepherds even lived to hear Jesus preach?  

That is the foolish part of joy.  It is not some scientifically sound hypothesis, joy is an emotion we feel.  Joy is about the moments when hope, peace, and love all come together...even if for a few fleeting moments...to sing in harmony.  Joy is.  It should not be defined or confined to words.  Joy is what will stir in the air tonight when congregation after congregation sings Silent Night.  Joy is what will fill people who come together tomorrow (not the gifts).  Joy is what the church can offer the world because it is not based on what comes wrapped in packages or tied up with bows.  Joy is what we find in our connection with God and in our connection to others.  Not that life is all chocolate rivers...but once we taste God's love or feel that love evaporate from our forehead at our baptism, we know the profound truth from the African-American spiritual:
"This little joy I have...the world didn't give to me.  Oh...this little joy I have...the world didn't give to me.  This little joy I have...the world didn't give to me.  The world didn't give it...so the world can't take it away."

And yes, Charlie, that is one of many true and beautiful promises of Christmas!

Blessings ~

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