Friday, December 21, 2012
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Joy by degrees

By Pastor Greg Wooten, Lincoln Church of the Nazarene

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[December 21, 2012]  Recent events have made me think. (Yes, that's what you smelled burning.) By recent, I mean this particular Christmas season. And as far as events go, well, some are close to home, while others, though close to our hearts, are hundreds of miles away.

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 prepare.

  • 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."')

  • Hearing your 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!")

  • Putting the 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.")

  • Great worship 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 altogether.

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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 and love.

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 now.

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 moments.

May God grant you joy to remember this Christmas!

[By PASTOR GREG WOOTEN, Lincoln Church of the Nazarene]

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