By Pastor Swanson
I grew up in a family with a rather strange Christmas tradition. My families Swedish heritage expressed itself in some of the more common ways. The meal at Christmas was always the classic smorgasbord served buffet style with all it’s traditional foods such as potato sausage, pickled herring and rice pudding. Much to my chagrin the meal was topped off with the serving of Lutefisk.
Now, anyone who knows anything about Lutefisk might suggest that in and of itself this is the strange Christmas tradition to which I am referring but such is not the case. You see, in the midst of a Christmas celebration tinged with the marks of our Swedish heritage my grandfather had somehow introduced the tradition of the Christmas piñata.
As a child I didn’t know any different. It all seemed very normal, the food, the family, the gifts piled up under the tree and then there was…the piñata. I never even questioned it, didn’t everyone celebrate Christmas with a piñata?
It always happened right after dinner. Once the dishes were cleaned up and some extra space was cleared away it was time to get down to business. We all knew what was waiting for us inside that figure of cardboard and papier-mâché. CANDY! Of all sorts, shapes and sizes.
The order was predetermined, always from youngest to oldest making sure everyone had a chance to take their best shot. With each successive whack of the stick the moment drew closer until finally that decisive blow sent the inner contents spilling out on the floor. With great joy and laughter we’d scramble around on our knees grabbing as many of those sweet treats as we could in our eager hands.
A new year in the LWML also means a new theme. This years theme is ‘Transforming Joy’ based on Psalm 95:1, “Oh come let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” As a child there was certainly plenty of joyful noise as we scrambled about shoving candy in our pockets. But I think there is a deeper lesson about joy to be found here.
In the New Testament we read things about joy that sound unsettling. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. (James 1:2)” “Trials of various kinds” doesn’t sound much like a reason for joy. But that’s because the source of our joy derives from something other than our circumstances. Joy comes from the Lord. Joy comes from the cross. Joy is being rooted in God’s grace and forgiveness given to us in Christ. Transforming joy is what sets us apart from the rest of the world.
Often we can feel a lot like that piñata. Life has a way of hitting us with a stick. It deals blow after blow until eventually we are dealt that decisive blow and what is inside us spills out for all the world to see. The question is, what spills out? Is it anger or bitterness? Rage or frustration? Is it all the things the world around us would expect to see or will they see what is least expected … joy!
A transforming joy that transcends even the most dire of circumstances. A joy that couldn’t possibly come from ourself but is given to us as a gift. To make a joyful noise when life has taken it’s best shot can only mean one thing … Christ is the rock of our salvation! What greater joy can there be?