I love Christmastide.
This year, a much larger population than usual seems to have embraced the Christmas spirit early. Trees have appeared earlier in homes, windows have been decorated with festive artwork; the darker nights are already aglow with neon stars and snowflakes. I follow my own little traditions: the Christmas cups come down from the top shelf as soon as the ‘red cups’ arrive in certain large multi-national coffee stores, the red nose and antlers are attached to my long-suffering car, the summer Lego display is removed from the windowsill and replaced with a winter set, and my legion of Willowtree angels are assembled into a sizeable Nativity scene. It brings me joy, and I suspect that search for joy is behind this year’s earlier immersion into festive decor.
It’s a theme running through the first Nativity narrative too - just like the characters in the Gnostic parable ‘The Wizard of Oz’, the gospel writers introduce us to a number of individuals who are searching for something which may, when distilled, be described simply as ‘joy’.
Joseph sought a good wife, space to work as a carpenter and stay below the notice of the Romans. For him, joy was following in the footsteps of tradition, yet still find the freedom to create, within those rules. God led him to that place by a somewhat circuitous route, and we know he felt heartache and uncertainty on his journey. He was not judged for this, but reassured by God’s own voice within His dreams; an ordinary man searching for ordinary joy trusting in the extraordinary God that not only hears, but speaks.
Mary found joy in obedience to her Father’s will. Her song of praise attests to this, as does her quiet contemplation of the things she witnesses; things we are told she ‘stores in her heart’. She was aware that the quest to be obedient is not centred on a single event - as a Nazirite vow would be - but is rather a lifelong journey of faith and determination; the recurring decision to obey, and the celebration of that.
The shepherds sought the joy proclaimed by the angels - peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, the glad tidings of good news - and they were invested in the search enough to leave the flocks and face derision in Bethlehem as they looked for God’s sign revealed.
The magi sought the star, which in turn would lead them to the promised king. When they saw the star, we are told, they rejoiced, and when they found the Child, they worshipped.
We think of Simeon and his quest for fulfilment: his joy on receiving it, and his humble acknowledgement that he could depart the world in peace, having been led to the source of joy - the Christ child.
I also think of Herod. His joy was power. He desired authority, the ability to influence a city - which we learn in the phrase ‘he was troubled, and all Jesusalem with him’. We think of recent dictators and those reluctant to yield power, however they have come by it. Their whims and moods form the basis for their policies and actions, and so those beneath their charge learn to fear the temperament of the ruler, rather than the laws of the land. Herod’s joy was centred on his acquisition of position; the joy of the others in the Nativity are found in the acquisition of something that remains despite the positions they find themselves in. Youthful or aged, revered or disgraced, they held the sights, sounds and symbols of that night within themselves, and they found joy.
Positions and situations have been in flux all year, and those who find their worth within them are struggling to find joy. What a time to turn to the Christmas symbols and reassure ourselves of the joy that awaits! I delight in God’s timing of the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which will blaze as a Christmas star in the sky this midwinter’s night. It reminds me that His promises are still true, His Sovereignty undiminished, and despite the journeys, the quests, the seeking and strivings of 2020, His capacity to give peace, hope and joy remains undimmed.
Yours in Christ,
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