Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Joy

Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  Luke 2:10

It’s a well-known scene in American cartoon land:  Charlie Brown trudges through the falling snow and comes upon the booth.  Psychiatric Help 5 cents.  Dejectedly, he sits down.  The ever-crabby Lucy realizes she has a customer and comes in a flash.  Just to be sure, she makes him pay for her advice in advance.  He drops his nickel into her “cash register” - the can with the slit in the top - whereupon she shakes it and makes happy faces about the sound of money dancing around in the can.  Finally, she remembers her client.

“Now,” she says, “what’s your problem?” 

And he replies, “It’s all this Christmas stuff that’s got me depressed.  I don’t know what to do and everything I try to do gets messed up.” 

“Well, Charlie Brown, what you need is a project,” she says.  “You need to come direct our Christmas play.”  His ego is stroked, he perks up and takes on the power position of directing the play.  Chaos ensues.  If you’ve ever directed anything, you know it can be a lot like herding cats.  They go through a lot of activity that all has to do with money and shopping and presents, but in the end, Linus steps into the spotlight in the middle of the stage.  Everyone falls quiet, and in the plain language of the Bible, he recites the Christmas story.  As the cartoon episode ends, all is peaceful and calm in Peanuts Land.  For a moment.  Thanks to those tidings of comfort and joy.

I love those Peanuts cartoons – both the ones in the paper and the animated ones on tv.  I love them because they’re so simple.  The basic truths of life are shared with such clarity.  I don’t care who you are, there are times in your life – yes, even mine – when we could all be mistaken for Lucy.  She’s the perfect crab, but she knows it all.  Just give her a chance…she’ll tell ya!  We all feel like Charlie Brown sometimes – the perennial loser.  The butt of every joke.  The one who never knows anything and who never gets any Christmas cards.  We know for sure that Lucy is never going to let him kick that football but we can’t help watching as he runs toward it with all his might and kicks as hard as he can into the dead air as she pulls it away at the last minute and he lands flat on his back.  We all feel that life is like that sometimes.  Nothing can go right.  I was talking with a friend just yesterday and when the poor girl got finished with her litany of the day’s miseries I felt like I needed to find that 5 cent psychiatric booth.  Heck…I’d even pay a dime.  And when all of these things stack up at holiday time, they’re just magnified.  We need joy…like Snoopy has.  If Charlie Brown is the perennial loser, Snoopy the dog is the perennial winner.  He sits atop his doghouse, reading the paper and waiting for his humans to bring his supper dish.  He often breaks into his happy dance.  That’s what we’re all looking for…our very own happy dance.  The dance of pure joy.

The other thing I love about the Peanuts Christmas stories is the tree.  Talk about the personification of simplicity!  Just a few sparse branches and one red ball.  When you think about it, how much tree does it take to make us have Christmas?  Several years ago, as our years were catching up with our bodies, Ed and I had to come to a realization.  The huge tree that had graced our living room for more than fifteen years was just too much work for two old people and when it was all together, the magnificently beautiful creation took over the room.  It was hard to let go of that tree but we did.  We donated it and moved down to a four foot tree.  Fine for Ed and me when the kids aren’t here but this year everybody is coming home so we need more of a tree.  So I’m here to give you the update today that the current fashion in Christmas trees is the skinny tree.  I got a seven foot slim tree.  It tucks nicely into a corner of the room.  I thought I had the skinniest tree in town until last night when we went to my brother’s house for supper.  My sister-in-law pulled me into her living room and said “Is your tree as skinny as mine?”  NO!  It was a seven foot pole with short green branches – almost straight up and down, artfully decorated and glowing with soft light…lovely.  They definitely won the competition for the skinniest tree.  But in that room, it’s perfect.  Think about it…all we want is the symbol of the holiday season.  I was looking at some of our pictures the other day and I came to the one of our skiing Christmas back some time in the ‘80s.  Instead of the usual gifts, we took our girls to Vail, CO, for a few days of real skiing.  We were arriving two days before Christmas and I assured them we would find a tree lot and get a small tree for the condo.  I even took a few of our favorite ornaments so we would have some familiar things with us.  Every time I look at the picture of what passed for a tree I crack up.  It wasn’t quite a Peanuts tree but it was a close cousin!  And what they charged us for it was obscene.  But it brought us joy.

Joy…how do we define this illusive emotion?  The dictionary says it’s the expression or display of glad feeling.  It can also be something or someone greatly valued or appreciated.  An unusual word.  We can either feel it or be it.  We experience the glad feeling because of something good or we can reach out our hand and be the joy for someone else.  The simple joy of Christmas is the glad feeling we have for the One who is most greatly valued and appreciated.  The angel spoke about it to the shepherds:  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  We hear those angels again and in our hearts we do our happy dance.

Like the little people in the Peanuts cartoons, we take joy in the plain good news of the coming of the Christ child into the world.  The trappings of the season that we display to share our joy with the world may be elaborate or they may be as simple as that little Peanuts tree with one red ball.  The focus needs only to be our joy…our joy at His coming and the message of His salvation.  However we share it with each other and with the world, may it be a story of joy…glad tidings of great joy.

However you will be spending this next week, I pray that the Hope, the Peace and the Joy of Jesus will fill your heart.