Like it or not, I think nearly
everyone would agree that Christmas is the most sentimental of
holidays. We treasure memories and haul them out of our hearts like
ornaments out of the attic. We anticipate that special day,
wondering, "Will this Christmas be good?" and comparing as we
Does your "list"
include good shopping weather? Check! ("So much better than last
year, but I hope we get a little snow before Christmas Eve."')
favorite Christmas songs on the radio? Check! ("I've always
loved listening to this station this time of year, but if I hear
"The Christmas Shoes" one more time I might scream!")
finishing touches on that special project, party or gift? Check!
("Remember that white elephant party a few years ago when you
got the Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottle dressed up like Carmen
Miranda? Good times, good times.")
services with your church to center your thoughts on the real
point of all of this? Check! ("Well, they'll never compare with
the Advent sermons that Pastor _______ used to preach.")
Place and time to
gather with the people you love ..., ah ..., er ..., well, your
family (Just joshing!)? Check! ("It won't be the same without
_______. He always loved Christmas.")
Everybody happy and well and have
everything they need? (insert the sound of chirping crickets
here) Hello? Are you there? That's a hard one to check off
the list, isn't it?
It seems like everyone I know and love is struggling against
something. If it isn't health, it's money. If it isn't money, it's a
relationship. If it isn't a relationship, it's grief. If it isn't
grief, it's fear. If it isn't fear, it's ... See? And to make
matters worse, this is supposed to be a happy time. Nobody wants a
downer around at Christmas! But the fact is that joy -- real joy --
is rarer than pure gold these days.
Even if you were enjoying a nearly ideal season, chances are your
hopes for that elusive "perfect Christmas" were dashed last week
with news of the lives of innocent children and their caregivers
senselessly, tragically ended by a troubled gunman. Not that there
is any good time for such awful news, but shouldn't "peace on earth"
have a chance right about now, at least according to the calendar?
Joy evaporated from our nation and we all wept. Indeed, we continue
to weep as details about the children and their teachers play out
before our eyes with news of funeral after funeral. Knowing that
children will be forever scarred from the experience, families have
been utterly destroyed and a community is drowning in grief is
enough to make us want to un-deck the halls and cancel the holiday
[to top of second column]
But (aren't you thankful for that wonderful little three-letter
word?) we have moments every now and then when joy breaks into all
the tragedy. Like just this morning.
Several days ago my 76-year-old mother had surgery. Though not
major, it did require a hospital stay and general anesthesia. The
surgeon reported that the procedure could not have been more
routine. Physically she was doing great. Mentally was another story.
For more than two days my dad and I struggled to keep her calm and
remind her that she was in the hospital, had just undergone back
surgery, and we tried to get her to cooperate with her caregivers.
It was exhausting. Even worse, it was frightening. My usually warm
and loving mother was panicked, hurtful and delirious. The doctor
warned us before the procedure that it would take a day or so for
the anesthesia to wear off, but as the hours went by and she seemed
to get more confused and combative instead of compliant and
sensible, we began to fear that something might have gone terribly
wrong, maybe some kind of stroke or other undetected physiological
problem that might have been taking away forever the woman we know
With responsibilities awaiting me at home some three hours away,
I reluctantly left the hospital yesterday afternoon, praying as I
drove, trying to bolster my failing faith that everything was going
to be OK. I awoke rested, but anxious. When I convinced myself to
call, my dad answered on the verge of tears and told me that she had
a good night, that the confusion was diminishing and that she was
finally acting like herself. I detected something in his voice. I
felt it too. Some might write it off as relief, but I've felt relief
before and I know this was something more. It was a beautiful,
priceless moment of pure joy. We thanked God for His mercy as we
said goodbye, and I rejoiced. It was wonderful!
That's when I started thinking about how joy is so fleeting on
earth. It always comes to us in degrees relative to our
circumstances. Many times it is preceded by some kind of problem or
turmoil, and it rarely lasts for more than a few moments. Though
precious, it is dulled, tarnished by trouble. That's life -- for
But (there's that sweet little conjunction again) not forever!
Someday everyone who has chosen to love and trust the One born to us
(Jesus!) will know joy without problem, without bounds, without
limits and without end. Until then, let's savor those remarkable
May God grant you joy to remember this Christmas!
[By PASTOR GREG WOOTEN, Lincoln Church of the