“Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat, please put a penny in the old man’s hat” Who can think of Christmas without the joy of Christmas carols? Everyone wants joy at Christmas. Everyone wants to be loved, to be cared for, to be remembered. There is no lonelier time of the year than Christmas spent alone. Sometimes we try too hard to be joyful at Christmas. I usually find that the harder I try to be happy, the more self-obsessed and miserable I become.
‘Joy to the World!’ Why is Christmas often the high holiday for alcoholics and the chemically dependent? Perhaps because people feel this ‘moral burden’ at Christmas to be joyful at all cost. Joy for many is like the elusive butterfly that is just out of reach. They can almost grab it and suddenly it is gone again. All the Christmas presents, all the eggnog, all the tinsel, and all the Christmas lights just don’t seem to be able to produce that strange phenomenon of joy.
‘Joy to the World!’ Joy is like being tickled. In the same way that you can’t tickle yourself, you can’t ‘pull up your bootstraps’ and conjure up joy. Joy can’t be forced, manipulated, controlled, psyched up, or packaged. Joy is a gift, a free gift, an overwhelming gift from the most generous giver in the Universe. Joy is the true heart of Christmas because Christmas is both about the joy of giving and the giving of joy.
‘Joy to the World!’ Have you ever noticed how you can’t fake laughter? Laughter too is a gift, a gift of joy, a gift of freedom. Can you imagine how sad a Christmas Dinner would be without laughter? Many of us have such a stern view of Jesus that we can’t imagine him laughing or joyful. Yet Jesus was at his best when he hung out at parties with some of the most unexpected people. We forget that Jesus, being Jewish, made use of Jewish humour and hyperbole to shock people into thinking. Can you imagine how racy Jesus’ story was about the prodigal Jewish son who ended up working for a pig farmer? And yet he used that now famous story in Luke Chapter 15 to remind us that no matter how messed up we become, we can always come home to the Father’s arms. That’s the true joy of Christmas.
‘Joy to the World!’ Joy and sorrow are neurologically linked in a way that few of us expect. How true it is that ‘those who sow with tears shall reap with songs of joy’. Unless we grieve the losses of life, true joy never comes. Alcohol and drugs merely postpone our doing the hard grief-work that awaits each of us. Is it a coincidence that the symbol of drama is the twin masks of Greek comedy and tragedy? How true it is that ‘weeping may last for a night but joy comes in the morning’. The price of really enjoying this Christmas may be paying the price of grieving the loss of our parents in death, our ex-spouse in divorce, or our children in heartbreak.
‘Joy to the World!’ Shakespeare in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ said: ‘frame your mind to mirth and merriment, which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life’. The ancient Proverbs said ‘A merry heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones’. More and more scientists are discovering that joy and laughter are scientifically good for you. Joy and laughter strengthen our immunity systems, reduce our stress levels, and alleviate chronic pain.
‘Joy to the World!’ Isaac Watts back in 1719 wrote the unforgettable Christmas Carol ‘Joy to the World! The Lord is come: Let earth receive our King’. This Christmas, let joy fill our hearts, let the King fill our lives, let the baby Jesus fill our homes. This Christmas ‘let every heart prepare him room’. Joy to you and your families this Christmas!
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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