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
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?” 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
undeck the halls and cancel the holiday altogether.
But (aren’t you thankful for that wonderful little
3-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 try 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 the woman we know and love forever.
With responsibilities awaiting me at home some 3 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 okay. 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
May God grant you joy to remember this Christmas!
Pastor Greg Wooten
Lincoln Church of the Nazarene