It was Christmas Eve, just before the first of three Christmas Eve services. There were sconces lining the two side walls of the sanctuary that contained small tea light candles. We had a faithful deacon who took it upon himself to light these candles each year. Using a long lighter, he reached up, tilted the lighter into the frosted glass holders to light the wick of each tea light candle. This particular year we decided to switch to battery operated tea light candles with an LED light in a plastic flame that made them glow like the real thing.
The problem was that no one had told our faithful deacon of the change. He had made it around to all the sconces, having successfully lit every one! Clouds of black smoke billowed up from the sconces and large amounts of stringy black soot wafted through the air, settling on every surface in the sanctuary, including the pews where, in a short time, a crowd of people would be sitting, wearing their Christmas best. Some churches have the aroma of incense when you enter the sanctuary, but what we smelled would never pass for incense!
We quickly opened all the windows to clear the air in spite of the frigid winter temperatures outside, and grabbed gobs of paper towels to wipe down the pews. Somehow we managed to clean everything up and had our Christmas Eve services.
No Christmas is going to be perfect. We wish each other a Merry Christmas, but all that happens leading up to Christmas and Christmas itself does not always produce a merry attitude. Being merry means being happy, and happiness depends on what’s happening; but there are almost always things happening that are not good.
There’s a better word than the word merry to use in the Christmas season and every season, and that’s the word joy. The angel, in announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, used this word, telling them that he had good news of great joy.
Sometimes people lament that they’re not going to have much of a Merry Christmas because they can’t afford to buy gifts or because of something else that’s made their circumstances far from ideal. Yes, circumstances can take the merry out of a Merry Christmas, but circumstances can’t rob us of the true joy of Christmas! The joy of Christmas has already been delivered to us, some 2,000 years ago, at the very first Christmas!
Happiness and being merry are emotions. Joy is more a state of being. Happiness depends on what’s happening. Joy results from accepting the gift of God’s presence with us (that’s what one of Jesus’ names, Emmanuel, means: “God with us.”). Joy comes from leaning on His guidance and help to get through the difficulties. Joy is ours when we hold on to the hope that He’ll ultimately work everything for the good as long as we hang in there with Him! This is how we can have the joy of Christmas, and have joy at any time and at all times!
I’m probably going to be wishing a lot of people “Merry Christmas” out of habit, but if I catch myself I’m going to say “Have a joyous Christmas” instead. Folks probably won’t catch on to the difference, but it’ll be a good reminder to me!
“But the angel said to them [the shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savor has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:10-11)