What brings joy at Christmas? It’s not just one thing. It’s a combination of many.
We started the season early, heading out to Keely’s and Mark’s in mid December as they go West for Christmas. Their large townhouse was elegantly decorated and it was so good to spend time with them; exchanging gifts, playing games and going to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Then there is my annual birthday dinner; always a joyous time with friends from church who come to help me celebrate another year with a big dinner. We also try to drive down to Bath and Haskinville, NY too. That way we can touch base with JoAnne’s side of the family and also attend the big extended family Christmas celebration at my Mom’s house. I think there were just shy of 30 people in Mom’s house this year. There is always a program at that Christmas celebration, which JoAnne discovered is very Victorian.
Special movies with just the right touch
For JoAnne and I this year, the movies were The Nativity Story and The Preacher’s Wife. The first is an excellent movie version of the first Christmas. The story has been expanded in places and compressed a little in others for movie purposes, but the feel of the story is just right. I saw it first in a theater and when the manger scene was complete, I felt like getting out into the aisle so I could kneel too. It was that moving. The second movie is JoAnne’s favorite at Christmas and I love it too. It’s also perfect for a preacher’s family to watch. An angel brings about changes in the parsonage and in the community at Christmas time. It is funny but it generates empathy too. And the little boy is the star.
Christmastime church services
The setting for worship at Christmastime is incomparable. Beginning weeks ahead, the glowing advent wreath candles and increasing decorations help the sense of anticipation to mount. This year at Community Wesleyan, our head decorator, Leah Harrington, choose a red-with-white-lights theme that made the whole front glow. Add to that the beautiful instrumental music of this Christmas– handbell quartet, string trio, guitar duet, and harp — and the stage is set for a truly inspiring worship atmosphere. Now enrich the whole with vocal harmonies of many varieties singing words to tell the Christmas story and reinforce its meaning. Add a main course of Bible readings and messages that expand our heart and our thoughts become truly focused on Jesus. Somehow, I think the angels help us especially to worship at Christmas time.
Everybody has favorite foods for Christmas and some favorite cooks too. We are often given lots of food to celebrate with—tough break for meJ. Jen Raterman makes the best Italian Christmas cookies. JoAnne says Marilyn Wilsch makes the prettiest cookies. My wife makes the very best apple pie. My Mom makes the best elderberry and peach pies (She made six kinds for the Christmas dinner). Magda Paashaus gave us some great chocolate bark candy. JoAnne’s student, Mikayla LaForte, made some exceptional chocolate truffles we are enjoying and Helen Sgroi made perfect chocolate peanut butter balls. My niece, Cheryl, makes the creamiest peanut butter fudge. My brother-in-law, Mark, makes excellent venison jerky, and I’m not really a big jerky fan. One prayer partner’s wife made a huge eclair. I would call it a supersized cream puff. The filling was mouth-watering good. Well, you get the picture. What’s your list?
Giving and receiving
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…(John 3:16) the Bible records. God’s generosity is the beginning of our giving. Each year we learn a little more of what Jesus meant when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).” There is such a great feeling when a gift that you give seems to hit the right spot. JoAnne picked out a sweater that our son-in-law just loved. I found a jogging type outfit that JoAnne likes. JoAnne’s friend, Kim, gave her a Leah Harrington original painting of the two of them that already has an honored place at our house. JoAnne got me a new winter squirrel-proof birdfeeder. I’m watching it closely. Jerry and Reggie gave me a summer hummingbird feeder for my birthday too. Keely and Mark gave me a new Sibley’s bird guide that I have been wanting very much. Both giving and receiving add such excitement and joy to our season.
And I could go on with more special things that add joy to this season. Think about the lights, the concerts, the inside decorations, increased neighborliness, and in Syracuse, even the snow contributes. But I believe that all of these sources of joy are secondary. The primary source of joy is the Spirit of Jesus himself, lifting our spirits. The Bible says that the fruit of God’s Spirit is this world is “love, joy… (Gal. 5:22). At Christmas when we celebrate Christ’s coming, it is only natural that we should sense some of that joy. The more intense our worship, the more intense is our joy.