One of the things in life which brings me joy is being in a kitchen, cooking for friends and family. This feeling of love and happiness has been passed down from generations of women in my family who cooked from their hearts. This week, as I mixed cookie dough in a bowl identical to the one my Gram had, I felt a sense of melancholy. Standing there mixing my dough by hand just as my Gram and Mom used to do, my mind wandered to those spending Christmas alone.
My hubby and I are considered ‘empty nesters’. Our son is married and lives in another state and my family is sprinkled across the country. My mother-in-law lives close by and we usually spend the holidays with her, but with the pandemic this year, who knows if we will be together? I thought about couples like us, my single friends, the widow spending his/her first Christmas alone, or the widow spending yet another Christmas alone, the divorcee learning to adjust to life without their spouse, or the person who isn’t able to gather with friends or family because of the pandemic. While our Christmas may look very different this year, it shouldn’t be any less joyous.
In the Old Testament, joy was found in God’s actions: the deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt:
Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord saved them. Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharoah…” ~ Exodus 18:8-10
We also see joy found in Israel’s return from the Babylonian exile (Jeremiah 31:1-19), the restoration of Israel (Psalms 14:7), in worship (Deuteronomy 16:13-15), and in the remembrance of past blessings (Psalms 126).
Today, it seems harder and harder to feel joy as we navigate social injustice, divisive politics, a pandemic, social isolation, grief, and loss. As I folded my chocolate chips into my dough, I thought: What is joy? My mind immediately went to my dear friend Felecia and the sound of her laughter. The sound of her laughter is one of pure, uninhibited joy. Whether on the phone or Skype, her laughter stops me in my tracks because there a sense of freedom in it. Here is a woman with a history of suffering, currently experiencing physical suffering, but yet, her freedom to laugh in the face of adversity comes from God. Her laughter does not match her life, her laughter matches the joy in her heart.
When I think about all the suffering we are experiencing, I am reminded of Jesus’ birth. In the midst of the waiting and suffering, joy entered the world (Luke 2). Jesus reminds us that we will grieve and suffer, but no one can take away our joy:
Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. ~ John 16:20-22
For those of you who may be alone, suffering, or whose Christmas may look very different this year, I urge you, no matter your circumstances, to allow the joy of Christmas to enter your heart.
For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6