Imagine that, under the Christmas tree, there’s a gift for you;
it’s in a box about the size of a human heart, wrapped in shining bright green
and topped with a velvety red bow.  It
has your name on it, but there’s isn’t another name. The gift is clearly for
you, but you’re not quite sure who it’s from. 
Though there are other present for you, this one intrigues you.  When no one is watching, you pick-up the box
to feel its weight (it’s surprisingly light), and shake it to see if it makes a
sound (it doesn’t, but its silence sounds like music).
On Christmas Day, you open your gifts: a tie, a dozen golf balls,
a watch.  A scarf, a new purse, a
necklace. But, somehow, you can’t quite bring yourself to open the heart-sized
box wrapped in green paper with a red bow. It fascinates you, but it somehow
makes you anxious. Despite the nudging of your family, you leave the mysterious
gift unopened.
During this Advent season, we’re opening the gifts of Christmas:
hope, peace, joy, and love—gifts which are ours because of Jesus. I’m at risk
for leaving one of them unopened: the gift of joy. I’ve done it before, far too
I’ve wondered why.
I don’t think it’s because I am a Grinch.  Remember what Dr. Seuss said about him:
               The Grinch
hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
               Now, please
don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
               It could be
his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
               It could be,
perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
               But I think
that the most likely reason of all,
               May have
been that his heart was two sizes too small.
I don’t hate Christmas, my shoes aren’t tight, and my heart isn’t
small. But, even though I am not a full-blown Grinch, it could be that my head
hasn’t been screwed on right. 
Maybe, I’ve thought that joy would dishonor the pain I see in the
world and the hurt I feel hiding just beneath the veneer of Sunday smiles so
many of us wear.  What right do I have to
laughter when there are so many people in tears?
It could be that I’ve wanted to deserve joy—to earn it, rather
than to receive it as a free gift of grace. Perhaps, I have taken on gloominess
and sadness as a kind of penance—a sentence to serve and a price to pay for my
flaws, faults, and failures.  How can I
be glad when I know, as the familiar prayer puts it, “that I have left undone
those things which I ought to have done; and I have done those things which I
ought not to have done?”
If it’s true that I resist joy because there is so much pain and
hurt in the world or refuse joy because of my own shame, guilt, and pride, then
my head really isn’t screwed on right.  I’m
living as if Christmas hasn’t happened, as if Jesus has not been born into the
After all, Jesus shows us the unending presence, the unfailing
faithfulness and the unflagging kindness of God.  He assures us that God has mercy for our
guilt, grace for our shame, and love for our fears. There is nothing in God
which keeps us from joy.
In one of
his first public statements, Pope Francis said: “The
joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.
Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner
emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” 
I have had a challenging year: cancer diagnosis and treatment
which made it impossible for me to avoid any longer a stark confrontation with
my limits. From that confrontation came a jarring awareness of my pervasive
brokenness: not only my body, but my mind, heart, and spirit cried out for
mercy.  I concluded that I need to leave
a job and a church I love.  I came
face-to-face with death.  I stand on the
threshold of an uncertain future.
And, I have never been surer of the reality of Joy, because I have
never been more certain of the truth of the gospel.  I know that, at the bottom of everything and
at the heart of all things, there is Jesus. Because he has been born, we, too,
can be born again and again. 
We dare not and we need not leave any of his gifts unopened. Even
his joy is for me, for you, for everyone.