Advent is all about preparing for Christmas. Are you preparing for anything? Advent is an expectant waiting. Are you waiting for anything?
Are you waiting to see if you got the job, if your check cleared, the results of a pregnancy test, a blood test, your midterm grades, if you got into your first choice? Are you checking your email constantly?
When you pass the class, get the second interview, get the meeting there is relief and there is joy. But the joy of Christmas is so much richer, so much more, because nothing can dampen it, because it lasts. Because even in the midst of joyful occurrences there will also be days when you lose the game or your job, when the test results scare the pants off of you, when your dryer breaks and you have four kids and more laundry hanging on chairs around your house than imaginable (oh, did I write that? Well, yeah, that happened this week) and it’s harder to find the joy. Some days it’s near impossible to find joy, especially if Christmas means missing someone you love or facing something or someone you don’t feel capable of facing.
But the joy of Christmas is available. It’s real. It’s accessible, no matter what the circumstances. How do we get that kind of joy? What kind of joy is that? It’s the joy the angel told the shepherds about on the very first Christmas.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”—Luke 2:10
The shepherds? Well, they wouldn’t have been the most educated or the most refined guys in town. We would probably call their lives a “rough existence”. They hiked around on steep hills all day, fought off scary predators like wolves, and slept on the ground with a herd of animals, no matter what the weather. There wouldn’t be anything glamorous about shepherding. They didn’t get to wear snazzy clothes, live in fancy homes or hang out with the in crowd. They were most likely exhausted and smelly. But they were waiting for something. The prophets had told them for hundreds of years of the anointed one, the Messiah, who would be born of the lineage of David in Bethlehem, live in both Egypt and in Nazareth, and who would save the world, who would save them. The angel came to the shepherds, who were possibly run down by the day-in-day-out of shepherding, but who were waiting for something—something big. Because the joy the angel spoke of wasn’t just for the pretty and the connected, it wasn’t just for the people with gorgeous Insta pictures and stunning kitchens. It was for the gritty, the grimy, the grumpy, and even the Grinches.
The angel said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy.” Good news. Haven’t seen that in a while on my newsfeed. Would you like to hear some? Aren’t we about ready for some GOOD news? Great joy? Not average joy or temporary joy or ‘bring a flashing smile to your face’ joy, but great joy. Where do we sign up? Could it possibly be intended for people like us?
Yes. Because the angel said the joy was for ALL of the people. That’s me and that’s you no matter what our status is, where we’re headed in 2017, or where we’ve been in 2016.
That joy is Jesus. That joy is that God so loved the world he sent his only son to save us. And his son said, “Yes! I want to do that! I love them so much; I’ll do anything for them. Yes, I understand it will be painful, grueling, shameful, unbearable, but yes, I love them that much. I’ll take it all for them, so they can feel grace, so they can comprehend love, so they can feel peace, so they can know joy.”
Christmas is a celebration that Jesus said ‘yes’. That He came down to earth as He and God had planned all along. Even though the stakes were high—the highest. But it is more. Christmas is the celebration that the little baby who was born in Bethlehem, that fulfilled the prophecies from the past several hundreds of years, also took our shame and guilt and pain, so we could be free to live the beautiful life God intended for us all along.
That’s the kind of joy that no bad news can steal from you. That’s the kind of joy, when you know it down to your core that nothing can dampen. That’s the kind of joy that makes you sing and dance and marvel that anything could feel that good, that glorious. That is unspeakable joy.
Merry Christmas! Joy to the World!
Different folks and different faith backgrounds within the Christian church meditate on different words or ideas during the four weeks of advent as they prepare for Christmas. This week I’m focusing on love.
One of my favorite Christmas movies is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. How I trembled at the sight of the Abominable Snowman when I was little. Gratefully, I’ve conquered that fear.
Each year as I watch, I’m a little befuddled when Rudolph and his buddies arrive at the Island of Misfit Toys. To me, none of the toys live up to their “misfit” name. A cowboy riding an ostrich seems exotic. A toy gun that squirts jelly sounds super fun, especially if it’s strawberry, because yum. A Charlie in the Box is clever, and that spotted elephant is so stinking cute. I have no idea why he’s a misfit. And Dolly? No one in my family can even figure out what makes her not fit in. Yet, each of these toys bemoans their quirks, the things that make them different. They play the comparison game and end up feeling unloved and unwanted.
Sounds a little bit like us.
We wish we had skin like her, or a set of wheels like him. We think if only we had this aspect, that job, those boots, that relationship, or wore that size, then we’d be happy.
But God tells us differently. God tells us we are His masterpieces, His perfect creations, who He has equipped for the specific work He has uniquely designed for us. God asks, “I made you in my image, why would you want to be any different? Why would you want to be like someone I created for an entirely different purpose and destiny than the phenomenal one awaiting you?”
Why would we?
Santa shows up on the Island of Misfit Toys and puts every toy in his bag. He doesn’t turn down any of them. Not one. Santa doesn’t say there’s no room for a train with square wheels or that only flying birds (not swimming ones) can sit with him. Santa sees and values each toy’s individuality. He understands that every toy has the power to bring joy and love into the heart of a child. Santa loves them all for exactly who they are. And at the end of the movie, when each misfit toy grabs a colorful umbrella and floats to the home of their future child owner, they are transformed. They are still them—polka dots, square wheels and all—but they realize their potential, they begin to see their true reflections.
And when we understand how loved we are by our Creator, that He crafted us perfectly and intentionally, that there’s room for all of us in God’s kingdom, that He doesn’t reject any of us, not a one, that our uniqueness can accomplish things no one else can accomplish, that we each have the power to bring love and joy to this world, just as we are, then we too, can begin to see our true reflections.
This is what Christ’s love looks like—a flawless mirror showing us we are not misfits. We are worthy, and we are treasured.
As you light your Christmas candles or your tree or plug in your giant yard blow-up Minions with Santa hats, breathe in God’s incomparable love, and remember that to Him you have infinite value.
My favorite day of the year is Christmas Tree Day, which falls annually on whichever day my family gets our tree. To me, it represents hope.
Merriam Webster defines hope as: to cherish a desire with anticipation. Yup, that’s me about Christmas. But the word ‘hope’ seems to get watered down. I hope I get there on time. I hope the line’s not too long. I hope they still have it in my size. That’s not really cherishing a desire, is it? Then what is hope? Hope is a college in Michigan. It is a charitable wine company. It’s even one heck of a goalie for the women’s National Team. But it is so much richer than that.
We all love picking out a prickly evergreen from the local farmer’s market, taking turns standing next to this one thick with fragrance, then that one with just the right point on top, so we can all compare and choose which tree is the perfect pine to grace our family room. Our family enjoys unboxing treasured ornaments from years past, the golden twinkle of lights, and singing Christmas tunes out loud, whether we know the words or not. But I get especially emotional.
Sure, it’s because of all the reasons I’ve listed above—spending time with my favorite people on the planet, reliving old memories, creating new ones, but I believe Christmas Tree Day is so powerful to me, because of all of the hope it signifies—the hope of the entire Christmas season.
My heart fills as it anticipates carols, cookie baking, and candle light services. I flash-forward to the joy of watching my kids scramble to locate our Elf on the Shelf (his name is Frosty) each morning. My taste buds eagerly look forward to the creamy richness of a peppermint mocha, sigh, and thick dark fudge. I’m excited to hug, laugh and catch up with loved ones. I look forward to priceless moments ranging from pausing to contemplate the nativity scene to prancing through the yard at the first sign of snowflakes—the kind of memories that seem to fold one on top of another at Christmas like no other time of year. I can barely wait for it all.
Christmas Tree Day brings me all of the hope of the Christmas season. But the Christmas season brings me all of the hope wrapped up in the fact that Jesus was willing to come down to earth, among the trials, the mistakes, and flaws of mankind (that’s me and you) to save us. Some days we feel hopeless. But Christmas is the beautiful promise that no matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been, Jesus loves us anyway, and calls out to us from the manger and from the cross, and right to where we are today, saying He wants to offer us love, the perfect kind. That’s what hope is. Hope is the desire, the anticipation, for His selfless love. But unlike Christmas morning, we don’t have to wait to unwrap it. God’s love is His gift to us today, right here and now.
No wonder the start of the season, the day that commences this month packed with hope, stirs me up inside. I cherish each moment setting up and decorating the tree, but I am also overwhelmed with the promises and potential of Christmas. No matter what you’re hoping for this Christmas, know that Jesus offers you all that and more.
May your days be merry and bright
Laura L. Smith