Sounding joy: The presence of God
Christmas brings a range of emotions to us all…but no one word captures the birth of Jesus more appropriately than the word joy!
As I reflect on Christmas’s past, I recall many filled with joy and a few more challenging to find joy. As a young child growing up at a multitude of Army bases, none was more joyful than in Berchtesgaden, Germany where my dad was stationed as the director of a recreation facility. We were nestled in the Alps, between snow covered mountains. We went to a very small school that took us skiing once a week in the winter. There were town square celebrations and we sang German Christmas carols in my Armed Forces school. Advent took on a whole new meaning when celebrating in this tiny little village near the Austrian border. I was secure with my parents and three older brothers celebrating Christmas Eve together.
Fast forward about 35 years and I find myself trying to feel joyful around Christmas after the loss of both parents. I taped the following phrase to my door to remind me what joy truly is;
“Joy is not the absence of suffering but the presence of God.”
I read that phrase almost daily as I passed that door and reminded myself that God was with me in all circumstances.
In the last few years, I have been blessed beyond measure with an expanding family and an amazing group of treasured friends. I decorate Christmas cookies with grandchildren and still play my German Christmas carols on the piano. I often sit beside my daughter at church holding our lit candles on Christmas Eve and we tear up together as we celebrate the birth of our Lord.
I believe, like Pastor Marty mentioned in his sermon last week, that we are given joy as Christians. It truly is a gift from God. Joy doesn’t take away the loss of a beloved family member or a dear friend, it doesn’t eliminate a pandemic, violent storms or life challenging situations. But joy does open our eyes to God always being present in our lives.
So, this year I will be singing beside my grandchildren ever so loudly, “joy to the world, the Lord has come,” and also “Oh Du Frohliche” (Oh How Joyfully) and probably tearful once again that God has graced me with an abundance of joy!!!
Annie Stern is married to Dave and is a retired speech-language pathologist. Annie & Dave have four married adult children and six grandchildren. Annie has been a member of St. Paul for 44 years.