We Light the Candle of Joy

The December I was 6 years old I had some unfinished business with Santa Claus.  My mother took my brother and me to go see Santa at the mall and when it was my turn, I climbed into his lap, looked at him sternly and said, “Why did you put a rotten orange in my stocking last Christmas?” (My mother reports that Santa nearly fell out of his chair trying not to laugh.) “Because I was actually very good all year soooo… I don’t understand why you did that.”  Now, I had not breathed a word of this to anyone—not on Christmas morning when I found the offending fruit at the bottom of my stocking; not all year long; not even in the run-up to our next visit with Santa.  Not a word.  Clearly, I was a girl who understood that I had some important business to attend to, but it was only with the big man himself.  This was between me and Santa, no one else.  So I waited a whole year until I had my chance to get some answers.

Santa was quick-thinking and explained that, as he remembered it, my house was very dark that night, so he couldn’t see the orange was anything less than perfect.  Satisfied, I was then willing to get on with the more traditional conversation one has with Santa when you’re six years old.  While my parents found the whole thing absolutely hilarious, it certainly didn’t fit with the Norman Rockwell-esque dream of a picture-perfect Christmas my mother was envisioning as she dressed me in a red velvet dress for my photo op with Santa that year. 
Have you noticed how many of this year’s new Christmas movies focus on the stress and strain that people (especially mothers) feel from trying to make their family’s holiday “perfect”?  
The third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, with its theme of joy and its pink candle, reminds us to lighten up!  To join Mary and the angels in rejoicing, not because our circumstances are perfect or even because we can make sense of the pain, suffering and injustice of the world.  Mary’s first Christmas certainly wasn’t perfect, after all!  She was an unwed teen mother, far from home, going into labor and giving birth in a dark stable surrounded by animals and hay (and what animals make after they eat hay). 
Christmas doesn’t have to be “perfect.”  Joy breaks in precisely when things go awry—like when a little girl in a red velvet dress gives Santa what for, or when a baby is born in a stable, laid in a feeding trough, and worshiped by shepherds and wise men.  
So this Advent season, don’t let the joy get lost in the stress and strain and demands. Instead, take time to sing and dance with the angels, to look at the world through rose-colored glasses—the rose color of that pink Advent candle, that reminds us Christ’s light is about to dawn on this weary world that stands in such desperate need of rejoicing.