A t a time when so much of the news we receive is filled with stories of what divides us – from political standoffs to religious tensions to ethnic battles – it is tempting to put down the newspaper or turn off the television or radio. But even if we do, we still may be faced with bad news closer to home – dollars that do not stretch far enough, families that threaten to unravel, and schedules and expectations that apply increasing pressure.
If we are not already feeling stretched or stressed, now we are told to have a happy holiday or a merry Christmas. To add being happy or merry to our list may feel like too much.
But maybe there is a different kind of news that can help us. Within the Christian tradition is the story of “good news” that a group of shepherds – folks on the fringe of society – received one night a long time ago.
Sometimes we may be in such a hurry to get to the rest of the story that we skip over the good news the divine messenger offers the shepherds. That good news is about joy – to be more specific, great joy. And that great joy is not just for a chosen few, but for everyone.
Maybe the gift of joy is what all of us need at a time like this – a time when things may feel off balance or out of control. The question is whether we are open to receiving such a gift.
Several years ago a friend and I were discussing a comment someone had made about how disappointing this time of year can be. I wondered out loud whether something I had done or said might have contributed to that person’s sense of disappointment.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” my friend said. Then she added, “Of course I don’t really expect much from Christmas. I just can’t buy into all that joy stuff – like some miracle is going to happen and change how I feel just because it’s Christmas.”
Maybe many of us are like my friend. We associate the joy we talk about at this time of the year with things outside our experience. If a sky full of singing angels is not our experience, then we do not expect joy to be our experience either.
But perhaps we can look for joy in a different way. Rather than looking for an extraordinary miracle to bring us joy, maybe we can look around us – at our ordinary lives and everyday experiences.
What if during this season we would sit down each evening and jot down the little joys we experienced but failed to notice during the day? They could be simple things. A bit of poetry that runs through our head. The smile of a child or an elderly neighbor. The sound of a friend’s voice on a long-distance phone call. The taste of a warm cookie or a cup of great coffee. The smell of a fresh Christmas tree or the beauty of flickering candles.
Maybe making such lists would help us to look at our lives differently and encourage us to take time to notice the joys we experience as they occur. Maybe this list making also would help us to be grateful for all the joys – great or small – that fill our lives.
During the days ahead – days that may seem filled with news of wars and disease and economic uncertainty and other tragedies – may we also experience the good news of great joy. And may that joy – which may fill our lives with earth-shattering song or speak quietly to our souls – give us reason to celebrate.