When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. (Matthew 2:9-10 NRS)
My holiday memories as a child are filled with family gatherings, lots of food, lots of cousins, lots of fun. I remember wishing it could be Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or Easter every day. As an adult, I’m relieved they are a bit more spread out. There is so much to do to get ready for those gatherings! Maybe a little too much? Sometimes the sense of “busy” robs the joy.
This third week of Advent we celebrate joy. To help make my season more joyous I’m embracing some advice a good friend shared years ago. Simply do what makes it feel like Christmas and let go of the rest. What makes Christmas feel like Christmas for each member of my family? For my son, it is a batch of his favorite cookies and eggnog. For my husband it is putting up the holiday lights. For me, it’s time in the kitchen baking. Flour and butter are like therapy for me. I get tremendous satisfaction out of creating yummy goodness out of a cup of this and a dash of that. For years my father would fly out to visit me near Christmas and we would spend hours in the kitchen together, including making about 15 dozen of great-grandfather Bisaux’s cookie recipe two at a time on his antique cookie press. I’ve not had the courage to break out the galette iron since my father passed away, but this year is the year I will retrieve it from its hiding place behind the stock pot under the stove. There is joy in butter and brown sugar memories.
It used to be that everything we did at Christmas had to be added in as part of the tradition. We had to have the gingerbread house, and the music, and the lights, and the perfect tree, and garland draped from the banisters, and the mantle decorated just right, and a wonderfully witty Christmas letter, and … It was overwhelming and exhausting. Now we pick and choose, and in the process got our joy back. One year the letter did not go out. Our friends still like us anyway. A few years there hasn’t been a tree, including this year. The world continues to spin on its axis.
There is one more thing that is the central “must have” for Christmas. Our nativity scene sits on the front lawn sharing the good news, lit with spotlights on a lawn that my husband has meticulously outlined with white lights. It serves as a reminder that Christmas is not about doing, but rather about being. It’s not about who we are, but whose we are. There is great joy in that gift.
Joyful God, thank you for the gift of the Christ child. Fill us once more with the joy of knowing that we are yours, forever. Amen