Joyous Experience

Good Morning Church,

Christmas has always been a special time for me as it has been for all of us in different ways and at different times. I am excited about and grateful for the new traditions that Stephanie and I are making together. I believe that they will be important and meaningful for years to come. When we wake up on Christmas morning, we will come down stairs to sit in front of our tree and open the gifts that we got for one another, while listening to Christmas records. We will make breakfast together and enjoy in laughter together. This year I suspect that we will take some time to sing carols and take a moment to appreciate the little things and advent candle. Normally we would go to either Steph’s parents or mine after we have wrapped up all that we planned to do at home. I love these precious moments shared together and they always bring back memories for me of my childhood.

As a kid, we would wake up early on Christmas morning and come down for breakfast first. Mom always likes to make a big spread, even if it is just for a few of us. We would sit around our dining table, with some of Mom’s nicer dishes, and share in a meal. We would tell stories about the past year and take time to simply reflect on where we have come from. I would usually collect our plates and take them to the kitchen for washing. I did this to be polite to my parents, but I also knew that in doing so I could sneak an early Christmas morning cookie.

After we have finished eating, mom and dad would grab a second cup of coffee and we would head over to the tree. We would begin to unwrap gifts one person at a time, making sure we all read the cards aloud and showing our appreciation for each gift. The cats and dogs were always around, so I would take some of the wrapping paper and ball it up as a toy for our one cat. He never cared as much for the toys that we bought him as he did for that wrapping paper. Our current cat Greg is more a fan of the ribbon.

Once we completed all we were to do at home, we would all pile into the car and make the 3 hour drive to my Mom’s parents house. Most years my Uncle Dean would be there and that always made arriving a special time since he was so goofy and fun. About an hour or so after we arrived my Aunt Linda and Uncle Dale would arrive with our cousins and the house would be quite full. My Uncle Dean, who was a chef, would have a meal ready for us all to join in and my Nana and Papa always had those Christmas crackers that you pull from each end and there are little prizes inside.

Once the meal was over, we would begin to open presents. My Nana and Papa always had these large paper leaf bags that they would put our presents in. At the time they seemed so large because we would have to crawl down inside them to get the gifts at the bottom. My favorite year however was the year that my Papa gave me a small box with a note in it that set me on a scavenger hunt that ended in me finding a hockey net and sticks on the back porch. It was such a fun way for him to give me a gift and it brought me a lot of joy because he took me outside to play in the driveway immediately after I found the gift.

Christmas day, at all points in life, has brought me a lot of joy. I am so eternally grateful to share these mornings with Steph and to reminisce on years past. Even if my Nana, Papa, and Uncle Dean are no longer able to celebrate with us, I have joy in those precious memories that I think on each year. There is great joy in the memories that I keep in my heart and they are a comfort for me in times of hurt and pain. I am grateful that even though I have lost important people to me, that I have the memory of their love.

If that has you wondering, “John the Baptist: Preacher of Joy?” let us dig deeper into his message to see that John is indeed a preacher of beautiful, comforting joy; joy that will help prepare our hearts for Jesus’ coming.

Most people know John for his camel’s hair wardrobe and locust and wild honey diet. But most importantly, John was God’s chosen messenger, to baptize the people and preach to the crowds, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” God called John to prepare people for the Savior’s arrival, just as the prophet Malachi foretold, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me” and Isaiah prophesied, “A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord.”

John the Baptist was coming to prepare the way for the Lord. He was coming to till the soil and make it ready for the farmer to come and plant the crop. Jesus was going to come and bring joy, but it was not just joy for the sake of joy, rather Jesus calls us to become joyful. We are called to change our habits or our ways, to consider the consequences of our actions and to make better decisions that bring joy into the world. Like with anything Jesus offers, it requires that we do something, anything, to assist in making it happen. Jesus did not come into the world to just snap a finger and everything would be right, though I believe he could of. Rather, Jesus came into the world to give us a choice. John the Baptist was preparing the way by stating what that choice would be.

John was the chosen one in his time. John was not the messiah, but was setting things up for the messiah to come. John was getting things in order for the work that would come after his time. John was a messenger sent to get the word out before the arrival of God incarnate. Advent is this special time each year where we prepare our hearts for the arrival of Jesus. Inherently, that requires that we are able to take a critical look at our own lives and choices. How have we been of benefit to ourselves and others this year? How have we, as this week reminds us, brought joy into the world or deterred from joy in the world? Have we made life better for all others?

When I reflect on Christmas’s past and present, I am filled with joy because of the people that were there to share those moments with me. We all worked together to create this beautiful experience that made for the memories I cherish now. My favorite part of getting ready for Christmas now, aside from all the ministry opportunities I have, is to take the time to setup our decorations together. Steph and I love finding ways for us to use what we have to decorate new spaces. I find a lot of joy in these simple moments with her and I look forward to many decades sharing in this tradition together.

As Christians, like John the Baptist, we are called to take what we have available and do something beautiful with it in our world. Every day life is a little different than it was the day before. Sometimes we need to try new things or look for new opportunities to be the church in this world. There is a lot of room and need for peace, hope, and now joy in this world. Let’s take a moment to reflect this week on how we have experienced joy. Appreciate these memories and honor them as I am sure we all do each year and then let’s find ways to bring that feeling back into the world not just during the holidays, but all year round. Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus, not just the celebration of it on Christmas. Advent is meant to transform our hearts each year as we continue to wait for Christ’s return. What a joyous experience that will be and until then we have good work to do. Amen.