The word is everywhere, but the thing itself isn’t.
November and December don’t bring “tidings of Comfort and Joy” as much as they bring pressure from deadlines, fatigue, frustration, financial restrictions, and fear of not having enough or being enough.
Advent is supposed to be about the joyful waiting for Jesus to come; instead, it’s about fearfully watching for the end-of-term or Christmas morning (Did I get my grades posted? Are all the presents in the right place?), about the reckoning that decides if I did enough.
If I am enough.
The letters J-O-Y are an unwelcome reminder of one more thing I don’t have in time.
I can’t imagine any American woman being a stranger to this Anti-Advent Syndrome—to tidings of distress and resignation.
Everywhere, in red, green, gold and silver: sparkling signs that I’m supposed to be happier than this.
Christmas isn’t the only time I struggle with joy.
A lack of joy for me isn’t a seasonal affectation. It’s a personality disorder.
I am not naturally a cheerful person; I’m naturally very critical.
According to my literature degree, this disposition is a writer’s prerequisite. This, and alcoholism. Either the disposition causes the drinking, or the drinking causes the disposition—chicken, egg, whatever—but you can’t write without both. So I embrace it. (The disposition, that is. Though I confess, from time to time, I do douse it with a little gin and vermouth.)
But happy as I am with this part of myself—the part that’s rarely happy—I’ve noticed that the writer’s prerequisites are at odds with the Christian’s requisites. Including the Psalms, we’re commanded to “be joyful” in more than 100 places.
It’s ironic how discouraging I find those verses about joy. Joy becomes one more standard I can’t meet.
I think about some of the worst offenders:
“Have joy in all circumstances” says the guy who was beaten within an inch of his life and tossed in a dark, diseased Roman hole protected by bars and guards.
“Consider it pure joy to suffer..” says the guy who was crucified upside down.
Sure. The logic is that if these guys could be happy in their brutal circumstances, I should be happy in Northern California suburbia. It may be sound logic, but it’s still not making me a ray of sunshine.
It may also be insanity.
I have a friend who is notoriously happy. The contrast between us is so striking, it calls the sanity of one side or the other into question.
Everyone knows her for her unwavering joy and love. Her specialty is making cakes, driven by the doctrine that any meeting will become a party with the right refreshments. More than once, I’ve followed her through a scary-looking door to find the time of my life on the other side.
More often, she’s followed me through a scary door. I had the courage to go because when I asked her to come with me, she said “yes.” The time of my life was invariably on the other side.
Her greatest gift is saying “Yes.”
I am so much of who I am because she first gave me permission to be that way.
“Is it ok to go here?” Yes. I’m with you. And we have GPS. And we’re gloriously over-packed!
“Is it ok to give this person a second chance?” Yes, we don’t keep track of chances!
“Are we going to survive this?” Yes. We’re clearly on the verge of Fabulous!
“Is it ok to love this?” Yes. In fact, here is MORE of it I’ve already found for us!
“Is it ok to wear this?” Yes. (When it comes to dressing and costuming, she’s already further over the line.)
Her greatest joy is saying “Yes.” And her joy ushers in mine.
The other day, I was trying to convince a reluctant friend a costume was necessary for an event he planned to attend. My dress-code notoriety aside, this one was really important.
I’m always preaching there’s power in dressing the part, but in this case, the part was glorious. And Glorifying.
My friend has an incredible imagination. He lives for a good story and loves to step in to one. Stories aren’t to be watched or read, they’re to be had for ourselves. To him, life is a valiant quest for Truth, Love, and Righteousness, and a good story will get us there. Stories are to be written by us, lived out by us, and we’d better get a move on. The event itself was a story world already, and a costume was a quick ticket in.
The trouble wasn’t that he didn’t have a costume; the trouble wasn’t that costumes were unwelcome at the event; the trouble was that he’d likely be the only person in his group wearing one. For him to have worn a costume anyway could have been awkward, but it could have also been a chance for everyone to see—in person—the power of imagination and the freedom to live from it. You only know if you go for it.
Willingness to be the only one is its own kind of valor.
So often, willingness to be the only one simply means willingness to be the first one. Once one person is willing, then everyone else has permission to be themselves, too.
A couple weeks ago, at a party, I explained away my pair of elbow-length gloves by saying that turning thirty meant I didn’t have to care anymore if I was the only one who wore something—a principle I live out several times a week by wearing red lipstick to school. At this same party, my costume and carefree curiosity inspired a bored bartender to spend his evening crafting cocktail experiments. Gin and Champagne alchemy ensued. Tapping into the bartender’s joy and expertise made way for everyone—including the guy on the clock—to have a great time.
Saying “yes” to the person God made us to be, giving the gift of our true selves, makes way for other people to do the same. Therein lies the joy.
I’m only talking about dressing for Christmas parties.
But it’s Christmas that calls us to remember the time Love was the Only One, the time Love went First, the time when Love donned the costume of infancy so that we could know Joy and follow suit.
I have been praying, lately, that God would make me a woman who was marked by Joy. That His gladness would be my gladness and that, together, We would be radiant.
Today’s Advent reading was the place in Luke where Mary says “Yes” to God. She responds to the Angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as you say.”
In order for Joy to come, Mary had to say “Yes.”
And she had to keep saying it, over and over again, because after she said that, the Angel left. I can only imagine being left with the revelation that Mary had to carry. It would be easy to believe when face-to-face with Gabriel. But what of the vision when you’re face-to-face with the confirmation that this world has to offer? How easy it would have been to second-guess what she’d heard, to get discouraged by rejection from people who didn’t understand, to be afraid of the future? Gabriel’s news was anything but tidings of comfort.
The key to surviving all that was saying “Yes.”
Will you go see Elizabeth? “Yes, Lord.”
Joy came when Mary got to Elizabeth’s. They baby in her womb leapt.
Joy comes when we say “Yes” to God.
Real joy isn’t happiness, success, or approval—it isn’t the ability to laugh at everything, or to compare circumstances with something more dire and come out on top.
Joy is only that moment when I say “Yes” to the Love of God. When I say “Yes” to the gift He faithfully offers in everything.
When He says, “Jessie, I know you’re scared. Do you trust me?”
“I need you to go, but I promise I am with you. Will you?” Yes, Lord.
“I know this doesn’t look like what we talked about. Will you hold fast to the Word I gave you?”
“I know you’re disappointed. Will you be gracious?”
“I know you’re poor. Will you let me Provide?”
“I know that hurt. Will you forgive?”
“I promise I have a plan for you. The time is coming. Will you wait on me?”
And then He says, “Jessie, do you believe I am Enough?”