-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
My childhood church had something called, “Children’s Moment.” It’s a moment in worship where all the kids are brought up front, and an adult teaches them a very-important-lesson.
This particular lesson happened one of the Sunday’s leading up to Christmas. The lady teaching us had a bag full of tiny presents. The lesson was simple, as all these lessons were: Jesus is the real present for Christmas.
She then gave us one of the wrapped presents, and the lesson was done.
I think it took about three hours before I had to know what was behind that wrapping paper.
It was a piece of wood. It was nothing.
When a good illustration turns bad
As an adult, I know the present couldn’t be a real present. As a kid, my brain started seeing those fake presents in department stores, and under Church trees as the wrong “Jesus.” I knew they were just beautifully wrapped empty boxes. "There’s Jesus." /s
I’m sure the little old lady who led that Children’s Moment would be mortified to know that’s how my brain worked, but not too mortified. I was an Uber-Christian back then. I knew Jesus wasn’t empty boxes, but it didn’t stop my brain from constantly making that connection.
But honestly, y’all! I’ve seen so many empty box Christians out there! They are all focused on making the wrapping work, they forget that God doesn’t trick us with empty boxes. God’s present is NEVER empty. The inside, the purpose, the meaning is what's important; not whether the sound system is on point, or the lighting is tight. God’s present usually doesn’t always come with beautiful wrapping paper and a nice bow. God's present is always meaningful and real.
Yet, we get so caught up on the wrapping, we forget the present within. It’s all beautifully wrapped emptiness. Highly produced nothingness. No Jesus here. Look at it and move on.
This is what happens when one tries to go straight to Joy; attempting to skip Hope and Peace. It’s not real and it can never be real. Real Joy happens when you break through the shadow of Peace and actually see that Christmas light for the first time. That’s when you realize the Hope you found back when you had no idea what God was giving you, is actually real! Only the people who have actually taken God's hope, and walked it through peace know what I'm talking about.
You can’t sing yourself to it.
You can’t decorate yourself to it.
You can only get there by taking the long path through Peace.
Stop planning your joy. Just stop.
It's like a rollercoaster. You can be at a park and choose to walk to the coaster. You can stand before the coaster, and choose to get in line. You can't control the experience once you are strapped in for the ride.
That's Godly Joy. It's unpredictable, and happens because you made that initial choice to follow God's call and began the hard work to reach that call. After that, you can't plan or work to reach it. Godly Joy doesn't happen because it just happens to be our Christmas season. It doesn't happen because we watched the correct Christmas movie combination, or listened to our favorite Christmas jams. You can't bake or wrap your way to it. It will happen when it happens.
The real gift is Jesus, but Jesus isn't a beautifully wrapped box of nothing.
Jesus was, is, and always will be real.