JOY… To The World!

One of the most iconic Christmas carols, Joy to the World doesn’t mince words. Like Linus in Charlie Brown’s Christmas show, this song knows what Christmas is all about. It’s about the Lord coming, and about our chance to make room for Him in our hearts. It is also the chance for heaven and nature to sing from the same praise book. Joy!IMG_1884

Joy can be hard to find at Christmas. When a loved one is missing from our Christmas gatherings, we remember old times and regret that we cannot share the current fun with the missing one. When we seek to please everyone and find the task overwhelming, it’s hard to feel the joy. When depression rears its head for no apparent reason, joy hides from us.

Happiness, often mistaken for joy, comes easily to some during the holidays. Many people are smiling and offering unusual kindness to strangers, there are

fullsizeoutput_6cb7delicious foods and treats to be had everywhere, and gifts begin appearing on doorsteps and under indoor fir trees.

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And to be honest, there are times when the happiness is elusive also, especially when my carefully laid plans and expectations for myself go awry.

 

Do you think of joy as extreme happiness? Or something deeper? Or something else entirely?

I think joy is sorrow turned inside out.

I believe Jesus understood joy when he talked about it in John 16:20. “Your sorrow will become joy.” The sorrow he was talking about was the grief they would feel when he had died. He said the world would rejoice. There would be a stark contrast of feelings when Jesus was taken from them. Some would be glad, but they would be mourning.

It was this sorrow, he said, that would become joy. There would not be a replacement of the sorrow. There would be no whitewashing of the sorrow with a smile or outward happiness. But the sorrow itself would become joy. The disciples would have a miracle worked in their hearts. The pain would turn to joy. It is not the absence of sorrow that makes for joy, but the transformation of it.

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So can we expect that same miracle today? This Christmas? Can the sorrow of grief, of unmet expectations, of exclusion, poverty, or depression be turned to joy? Can the coming of Christ at Christmas

be the trigger?

I think yes, we can expect it, we can find it, and it will be God’s gift to us, yet again. The miracle of Christmas is God with us.

Joy to the world and to you, my friend.fullsizeoutput_6cb0

Christmas Carol Resolutions

Sometimes song lyrics take on new import when my mind is on something else.  This year, while singing Joy to the World  the Sunday after Christmas, I was also thinking about the new year coming.

In fact, I was thinking about resolutions and what, if any, resolve I had for the coming year.  Just at that moment the screen flashed the words of a familiar verse:

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.  He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found.  

This seems like a good start for a New Year’s Resolution list.  And it is a personal list.  And it gets to things that matter. So I put it to use.

First, no more growing of sins.  I need to take a serious look at my sins, my weaknesses, my tendencies, and stop watering them as if they were treasured orchids.  No more growth.  I need to stop feeding my impatience, my anger, my thoughtless words.  If we stop allowing our weaknesses to grow, maybe they will shrivel up and die, making room for our better qualities to move in.  The garden of our hearts, my heart, will be healthier.

Second, no more growing of sorrows.  This includes regrets and shame. Because the past is over, revisiting hurts and difficult times only serves to re-infect us.  It is like the common winter cold that moves from one family member to another and then back again.  Not healthy.  I need to strengthen memories of joyful times, of things for which I am grateful.  I can stop the growth of sorrow if I put those hurtful and painful things out in the freezing cold.  Warm up, O heart, to the joy that Christ brings, and the joy he has already brought to my life.  Blessings outnumber sorrows every day.

Thorns infesting the ground.  We live in a thorny world.  Our home is in a very thistly landscape and these thistles pop up every spring, invading the flower beds, the garden, and generally every part of every view.  They often reach gargantuan proportions, outpacing even our nicest shrubs.  We learned a couple of years ago that placing PREEN on the beds in early spring, then mulching, keeps the thistles to a minimum.  No more let thorns infest the ground. It turned out that pulling them always seemed to bring more because the tap root was seldom removed and new shoots would simply form even if I pulled weeds all summer long.

Our world and its geopolitical issues are thorny.  Just like the thistles in my yard, they proliferate even when pulled one by one.  Jesus once talked about the tares and the wheat, saying it was better to leave them growing side by side, so as not to pull the good stuff out with the bad.  A point worth pondering this new year, both in our personal lives and in our global community.

Thorns can be sticky.  Once under the skin, they can be very hard to extract.  Paul talked about a thorn in the flesh, which was never removed even with much prayer.  Relative to New Year’s Resolutions, I resolve to not let the thorns in my life control my reactions.  I hope to let go of some of them, and let some of them be, focusing on the good fully-formed flowery blessings that grow alongside.

He comes to make his blessings flow.  For some reason, I wrote this on my crumpled paper:  He comes to make his mercies known.  Either way, I don’t want to stand in his way.  If God wants blessings to flow, I resolve to be a conduit.  I want his blessings to flow through me.  To hoard God’s generous blessings would make me an obstacle to his purpose. In the coming year, I hope to help blessings flow.  Make me more generous with my time, my resources, my smiles and mercy.

And this flow of God’s blessings goes far and wide, far as the curse is found.  That’s everywhere.  My resolution is to look for ways to share blessings beyond my own comfort zone, my family, my community, my nation.  Let me spread God’s love to the least, the most desperate, the most forgotten.  Even to share my blessings with those despised by the world.  God loves them, indeed all of us, so much that he stepped down into our thorny world and lived among us.

Resolutions that matter.  More than consistent recycling, losing weight, getting in shape, and cleaning the clutter, these Christmas Carol Resolutions could make a real difference in my life.

Dear Lord, I pray that your spirit will enable me to put these ideals into practice.  Let us together make your blessings flow.  Amen.