Are you Ready?

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This is a question that people often ask me this time of the year, perhaps it is because they have fallen behind and they hope that there is some other poor soul that isn’t going to be ready either or they are a bit cruel and know that I never am ready for Christmas and they are just looking for the opportunity to tell someone else that they have been ready since Thanksgiving.

Truth be told, I am never ready for Christmas, and I know that there are many people who wish that they could just for one year have things together enough to make it a joyous holiday. There are also many who suffer more at this time of the year than at any other time. How can we be joyous when alone, unemployed and feeling unemployable, judged and ridiculed, falling behind in health, when death is imminent? How can we rejoice when there are so many who are suffering around us? The events of last week in Newtown, Ct weigh heavy on all of our hearts.

Yet in all this I believe that we can still find happiness in this season.

To do so, let’s take another look at the Christmas story and those who have inspired us through the ages of Christianity.

First Mary, just a child herself, without hesitation accepts the will of God and somehow though never with Joseph or any other man finds herself pregnant. There is a good reason to believe that this was not a happy time in the household of her father. I can’t imagine that he ran right down to the village square to tell the glad tidings. And this nonsense of an angel and a savior, the desperate lies of a teen that is about to ruin her life and his. How would we respond today if this had never happened and some young girl made that claim? How would we respond even though it once did?

As Mary heads off to Elizabeth’s home, what was she expecting? To be scolded perhaps, or maybe she would be pressured to tell the truth about what had really happened, or just told that to save her family the embarrassment of her indiscretion she would be staying there until Joseph made his decision. Perhaps she had heard of the wonder of God’s hand in Elizabeth’s own pregnancy and wanted to share the story with someone who could relate. She needed someone to love her, believe her, hold her.

When she arrives though … she hears rejoicing. Great Joy. So wonderful was Elizabeth’s greeting that Mary herself breaks out in a joyful song of praise that flows from the depth of her very soul. The joy wasn’t Elizabeth’s alone, John actually made the first move, and instead of apprehension on how she would greet her young cousin Elizabeth saw the plan of God unfolding, continuing to unfold since she herself was carrying a miracle child, and could not refrain from praising God for all to hear.

Let me jump ahead a bit to Joseph, he had his own reasons to not be particularly joyous. This scandal would certainly be difficult in the community. Pressure from the others was likely about to come upon Joseph, this is after all a very human society where the fear of unknown things causes people to do unthinkable things. If it wasn’t for his love for Mary he may have been inclined to listen to the fear of the others. A dream from God is hard to deny but not impossible to ignore. Joseph was able to trust God in spite of his own uncertainty. And in trusting God there was peace in the long journey to Bethlehem.

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How about the Angels that came to tell Mary, or Joseph, or the shepherds? Listen to their words. “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of GREAT JOY which will be for all people”. They couldn’t wait to bring this news. I can imagine them all lined up waiting for just the right moment, was it the sound of a first cry from a newborn baby. And when they heard it they burst forth. The Joy was in them as it was in the shepherds as they left the manger rejoicing; having seen Christ for themselves, no longer afraid but singing joyfully.

Then there is the Star, I have often wondered about this star and what kind of herald it was. The wise men saw it and traveled far, what joy in their hearts when they saw this little child. Matthew writes, in chapter 2:10 ff

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him”. They rejoiced exceedingly with Great Joy and fell to the ground before the child Jesus in the house.

But that star still intrigues me. I have often wondered if it wasn’t a star at all, though I wouldn’t deny that. I wonder if it was really the Glory of God’s face shining brightly on the whole world. Think about the face of someone who is beaming with happiness with the news that that they will be having a baby, or just filled with an unspeakable joy then we will be able to understand the Judeo-Christian blessing “May the Lord make his face shine upon you” in a new way. Our Father, the Lord God, is so filled with Joy over humanity that he was beaming brightly. God loves us in spite of the inhumanity of our actions.

I want this Joy in my heart. I need this kind of joy.

At a time when so many, including myself are so downcast by recent events in our world. When even the thought of endless Christmas activities can be so daunting that all happiness evaporates as we watch the clock and calendar tick away. It is hard to have a Merry Christmas, for some as I noted above it may be nearly impossible.

I read a sermon on this reading on line. The writer mentioned his same concern about being asked if he was ready for Christmas, his response was “No but it is coming anyway, I may as well be Joyous”

Is being Joyous a conscience decision? Do we choose to be happy in spite of it all? I don’t know for sure but there are certainly times that we choose not to forgive, or to be miserable so then it must be true that we can choose to have joy. Or at least choose to be open to joy when the Lord comes our way. Mary pondered all these things in her heart and there was joy in her heart even as she suffered through indignity and insults.

Pondering is more than simply thinking about what took place. She thought deeply, lost in thought, she felt the love of God. As we too meditate on these things we can sense that God, our God is overjoyed to give us, us unhappy people, his own Son to heal us, to redeem us, to guide us, to remain human with us. There is joy in this season and in all seasons and turns of the world when we see the plan and purpose of the birth of Jesus is God’s gift to us because it brings God great joy. We will have life, now abundantly and eternally with all God’s people and heavenly creatures. How awesome is the thought and reality of that.

Loose yourself in thinking about God’s Love and Joy. Set aside the painful memories this season may bring. Listen to Mary’s song. Set aside the business that cannot be accomplished. You may not be ready for Christmas but you can be ready for Christ, he comes anyway, ready or not. Open your hearts to receive the joy he brings when he comes, we can be happy already just thinking about it.

May the joy of Mary be yours this Christmas as you sing songs of Praise for the Great work of God our Father in giving us this child.

May the joy of Joseph be yours as you endure the long road ahead trusting that God knows the way.

May the joy of shepherds be yours as you encounter the Christ child in mean estate for your sake and the sake of all humanity.

May the Joy of the magi be yours as you fall before the Lord and present your gifts.

May the joy of the Angels be yours as you go out and tell the Good news that God has come into our world.

May the Joy of the LORD be yours as you remember that God rejoices over you and that all heaven rejoices when one lost sinner repents.

Open your hearts to Jesus and to the spirit of God, for he has done a wonderful thing, let him in and we will know Joy Unspeakable.

May the Lord bless you and keep you

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.

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