Ah, I love the Advent and Christmas seasons–the waiting, the preparing, the hoping, and the glittering joy-glimmers, each sparkling facets of God's light and the diamond-truth that his Son has come and is coming again.
The older I get, the more I realize what a rotten Puritan I'd make. I've gotten over feeling even remotely guilty about experiencing God's genuine joy, however and whenever he sends it. (And I find it increasingly difficult to trust people who don't trust joy.) I figure God wants us to take his joy full on, straight up, with a heart overflowing from an abundance of gratitude, a mouth well-accustomed to the taste of sweet laughter, and eyes regularly rinsed clear by pure tears that prove that joy and sorrow can indeed walk together in his grace. And all of that because we know Christ has come and is coming.
So I make no apology to the Puritans. If they choose to distrust joy(because it smacks of freedom and thus frightens stone-cold law-lovers), that's a sad choice, but not one we have to repeat.
I know the trappings of this season can sometimes be contrived and shallow, the light artificially created by those whose spirits, either because of unbelief or because of toxic religion, can rise no higher than Jingle Bells.
But hearts lit up by God's genuine light know how to "harken" to the glowing message of the "herald angels" and receive that beautiful joy, even as they get the much more minor but still real joy of Jingle Bells — and lights and tinsel thrown in for good measure. I don't think God minds. All real joy is God's joy, and Puritans are wrong: it's not possible to get too much of it.
I'm looking at our beautiful Christmas tree as I write. I think they get more beautiful every year, and this year my favorite daughter-in-law (I have three favorite daughters-in-law, all my very favorites in amazing ways), did a great job doing the lion's share of the decorating.
Yes, it's a plastic tree likely made by Buddhists in China. I think kids will have lost a very nice thing if they never get to walk through a Christmas tree lot, pick the perfect imperfect tree, smell those great smells, and warm up near an old topless 55-gallon drum glowing with a real wood fire. I want a real tree again sometime before I die!
But this tree is still beautiful, and, though I've not done exactly what I did so many mornings as a child, crawling in under real branches and gazing up through layers of lights and ornaments toward the star on top, I still look at that sparkling tree each morning and feel that same joy.
I'm particularly proud this year of the bubble lights I'd told my grandkids about and promised to find. Those lights were my favorites on our tree when I was little, and I wanted my three wee folks to see them.
Since he is the Source of it all, God's joy can bubble up and surprise us yet again almost everywhere. From a star. From a song. From a tree. Even from one turned into a cross.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org