Throughout my life Christmas has been a time of wonder and awe. My birthday falls on the day after we celebrate the birth of this Savior for all mankind. It was personally significant to me to share my birthday with Jesus- to have my own birth celebrated even while celebrating the miracle of God's great love for us. His love, in fact, has permeated my existence. Every season, whether I walked close to him or held my heart at a distance, I was drawn by that glorious love. But joy? I have struggled to find joy on this special needs pathway.
I am beginning to accept that my definition of joy differs from God's deep understanding of it. I have seen joy as a great burst- a sudden appearance of a shining messenger proclaiming JOY to all people- old and young, rich and poor, churched or not- a great company of heavenly hosts singing
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth, Peace, goodwill towards men."
And on earth, Peace, goodwill towards men."
Throughout my life, I confess that the events chronicled in Luke 2:13 have been my plumb line for joy. A miraculous shining light of God's glory, a choir of angels singing praise to God.
When I am able to step aside and ponder, joy bubbles up. Yet this is a gentler joy, a restful, quiet joy. The wonder of God reaching out across a chasm, offering unconditional love and acceptance, regardless of my many imperfections. A gift to marvel over for I am flawed, yet deeply loved- truly this is a call for joy to bathe the inmost places of my heart and soul.
As I review the story of Jesus' birth again, I recognize that visits from heavenly messengers were not initially met with overwhelming joy. Those receiving a message from God are most often, in fact, terrified. I, too, have battled debilitating fear- most particularly of losing my son. I was plagued by agonizing fear during the initial diagnosis, and years later, off and on through diabetic crises and hospitalizations. While I knew peace for a number of years, puberty has been an opportunity to fight for that peace- as well as the moment by moment battle to trust and rely on a Source beyond myself. So the message that jumps off the page today, as we recover from yet another intense battle for wellness, is this:
"Do not be afraid. Listen!I bring good news, news of great joy that will affect all people, everywhere... A liberator has been born for you!" (The Voice Translation)
A liberator. One who saves me from the vise-grip of fear. One who sets me free from my own doubts and places of unbelief. One who loves me, no matter what, and draws near to me, no matter where I am. After the initial panic and rush to the hospital, a kind of quietness floods my heart when I wait for hours on end, in a hospital room, praying over, for, and with my sweet son. I've called it peace- but is it possible that this quietness could also be joy?
As I re-frame JOY, I marvel. Could joy be that simple? In God Calling by AJ Russell "Two Listeners" perceive that life can be "a toilsome march." They are assured that "Joy will come... Joy is the reward of patiently seeing Me in the dull dark days, of trusting when you cannot see...Joy as your heart's response to my smile of recognition of your faithfulness," (of the work to stay connected to my Source in the midst of the battle.)
"Stop thinking that your lives are all wrong if you do not feel it [Joy]... Remember you may not yet be joyous, but you are brave, and courage and unselfish thought for others are as sure signs of true discipleship as joy."
Again I am drawn to the understanding that The Point of all this is not religion, but relationship. Joy is God with us. Amidst inhumane suffering and agony, Jesus looked forward to the joy of restored relationship.
"For the joy set before him [he] endured the cross"
In the midst of sorrow or grief, in the midst of celebration or joy- even in the midst of the monotonous or mundane, I do not have to be alone. Here's where I get excited, here is where quiet joy swells and my heart leaps with JOY. When life is dark, or difficult, I can count the joys... and the greatest of these is that tender quiet presence holding me close, helping me to be still and discover the joy I long for.
The wonder of the Christmas story, the truest, most powerful miracle is relationship- connectivity and communion with the Lover of Our Soul- this where my Joy begins and ends.