A few days before Christmas in 1997, I was in my car, making the 11-hour drive from my apartment in western Massachusetts to my childhood home in Pittsburgh, PA. It was my final year teaching school, and we had just finished the fall semester. In addition to luggage and Christmas presents, I was bringing home a mountain of papers to grade. I hadn’t yet written my Christmas letter. I was anxious about how I was going to pay for seminary in the fall and what I was going to do with my cat when the time came to move. I was tired and stressed, traffic was heavy, and the sky above me was gray.
I turned on the radio to pass the time. The station was in the midst of a live auction, with listeners calling in to place bids on a popular toy called “Tickle Me Elmo.” The actual price of the toy was about $30, but supplies were running low. The on-air auction price was near $1000, with each caller urgently explaining why it was crucial that their child or grandchild end up with Tickle Me Elmo. I switched stations. A Salvation Army brass band started playing “Joy to the World.” To my surprise, I promptly burst into tears.
Into the midst of my holiday and personal stress, exacerbated by listening to desperate adults frantically pledging hundreds of dollars to secure a toy, came a wordless reminder of what Christmas is all about: joy to the world. Not manufactured joy, marketed and purchased by consumers; but joy as the gracious gift of a loving God—joy incarnate. God chose to come into our midst as a tiny, fragile, vulnerable baby in order to be with us, to love us in spite of ourselves and our Tickle Me Elmo ways.
Joy to the world—that’s God’s ultimate intention for us, at Christmastime and always. I hope you’ll join us for worship as we seek and celebrate that joy, especially as finish up our Advent waiting on Sunday, December 22; and then as we welcome Jesus’ birth once again with three services:
Tuesday, December 24:
4:30 PM - Family Christmas Service with Holy Eucharist II
10:40 PM - Concert of Christmas Music
11:00 PM - Festival Eucharist II
Wednesday, December 25:
10:30 AM - Holy Eucharist II
Friends, God’s desire is for the world he created to have the joy of being in relationship with him. We get sidetracked by the lure of so many shallow “joys,” when the one joy we truly need can be found swaddled and in a manger in lowly Bethlehem. I pray that each of you will experience that joy this Christmas.
Blessings to you in this holy season, and always.