Tuesday, Dec. 13:
AM Psalm 45; PM Psalm 47, 48;
Zech. 2:1-13; Rev. 3:14-22; Matt. 24:32-44
Christmas changed. I can’t say what year exactly. The decorations were the same, the sugar cookies as thin and crisp as they had ever been. We still put the creche up in the old manner, by taking turns drawing newspaper wrapped figures from a cardboard box, all hoping for the child, a sign of great blessing. My brothers and sisters came with their families. There was good food and, as much as I could follow, good talk.
But I longed for the years before. When Christmas looked and smelt no different but felt different. Years I couldn’t name when my father was not anxious and my mother not tired, when the bickering between my siblings seemed the whole rather than the mere issue of strange and deep rifts in their relationships. People gave and received the wrong presents and it was seen in their faces while they said thank you.
Now I know it wasn’t Christmas that had changed but me. There never was a threshold in late middle December beyond which life could not pass. Christmas never was immune to the tedium of the everyday. Neither decorating nor even singing Joy to the World could banish the misgivings harbored in our hearts. Of all the losses in growing up perhaps this innocence of perceptiveness is the heaviest. When Christmas comes I still yearn for that child’s blindness to sorrow, for a return to the Garden of Eden. Christmas so strongly sharpens this wish for happiness. I wish my sorrow would turn to joy, my anxiety to hope, my actions to blessings. God, I beg, make me happy. Make me excited. Give me joy.
Isn’t this how we often think of joy and sorrow? As two antipodes, as if our spirits inhabit a universe with two polestars, one which leads to God and one to despair. Rejoice, every book of the New Testament seems to say, in your sufferings. If we don’t feel joy, we haven’t done it right. How much easier would it be if we could return to childhood, if we could return to the Garden of Eden, if God just gave us happiness rather than sorrow; if he held our families together and kept us from sin.
God please give me a week, a day, an hour of un-anxious happiness not weighted with my own inadequacy. This is what I pray. But I am wrong from the start. It is neither joy nor sorrow which directs my path, but both are wrapped in my heart, joy and sorrow of the expulsion from Eden so fully contained in our Lord kneeling in Gethsemane.
Praise God for being victorious in sorrow. This leads us to kneel with him, to be a people who do not have to hammer happiness from a broken world, but may hope for peace and pray for joy because our sorrows have been prayed for and our Lord has come.
(Today’s exercise: Offer to God whatever anxiety you’re feeling today. In prayer present it to the Lord. And ask that he would exchange it for the kind of joyful trust that marked Jesus’ life.)