Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Looking for Some Joy This Christmas? (Dialogue Column 12.15.09)

I wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO.

Christmas is next week! Do you feel frantic with last-minute shopping for gifts? Do you feel stressed when you think about guests coming to town? Do you feel happy with carols on the radio and in the stores? Do you feel sad as you approach the holiday without someone you love? More important than any of these questions, do you feel joy this Christmas season?

Joy is one of those words we throw around at Christmastime, but it is certainly hard to define. People can be sad, grieving and in the midst of difficult circumstances and still have joy. Joy is distinct from happiness; Frederick Buechner writes, “Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it—a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeathes it.” Joy is given by the Divine, and it is not self-generated. As near as I can determine, joy is that sense of rightness and meaning and empowerment which comes to us in moments that transcend our circumstances. In such moments of joy, we are aware of our connection to our Creator and our fellow creatures.

Although I know from experience that we cannot manufacture or manipulate joy, I do know that there are places where joy is more likely to be found than others. Usually you can find it in places where you are giving of yourselves to others in deepest need: I can’t guarantee that you will find joy in one of the following suggestions, but I believe if you want joy this Christmas, odds are you might find it in one of these possibilities.

Share some food. Serve a meal. Talk around the table. If you saw the front page of The St. Joseph News Press this morning, you know the cold temperatures and bad economy have filled our homeless shelters. At the St. Joseph Haven, in addition to the men living there on a transitional basis in apartments, there are men sleeping on cots in the common room on a temporary night-to-night basis. The extra mouths to feed are stretching Haven’s already tight budget. In your holiday cooking, how about preparing an extra meal and delivering it to them on a night they could use it? Better yet, why not come down and serve it yourself and take some time to meet the men who will benefit from the food? Their gratitude will put your holiday stress in perspective. For that matter, if you bring some holiday cookies down to Juda House or St. Joseph Haven, you will find some men who are struggling to turn their lives around and beat the cycle of homelessness. They love cookies, but they love even more knowing that somebody actually cares about them and is willing to talk with them as a person of dignity. Call 816-390-8884 to find out what these men need and when they could use it most.

Give a smile and some time. This past Sunday, some First Christian folks took Christmas cookies out to church members who are homebound or in assisted living facilities. Some of them are far from family and could use additional visits. These saints of our church have supported our ministries for decades in many cases and they deserve to be remembered this season. Give the church office a call and Cheryl can give you the name of someone who could use your presence, even if it is for a short time. Brief visits by children with homemade crafts or cards brighten the lives of people who often no longer have the joy of seeing children around. Even if you do not know one of these folks, everyone deserves to be remembered during the holidays.

Provide a ride. Deliver some food. Help in unexpected ways. The needs of people living on the edge and falling through our community’s social safety net do not stop during Christmastime. Our church partners with Faith in Action which matches church volunteers with the needs of people who lack the means and support to care for themselves. Usually they are low-income seniors or people with medical conditions who are without family to care for them. Sometimes they need a ride to a doctor’s appointment or someone to drop off a delivery of food from a food pantry. Other times it is an odd job like helping organize a kitchen cupboard or shoveling a snowy sidewalk. Contact Stacey Park or me for more information.

There are more options, of course, for finding joy through helping others. I’ll post these and more on my blog in the next few days.

Grace and Peace,

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