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On Faith: As holiday season fades, focus on joy

I must confess that I often find the New Year holiday to be somewhat strange. I don't mean that I can't grasp its meaning — it is a good thing to celebrate the beginning of a new year. It is strange because coming on the tail end of Christmas festivities and gatherings, it can have, at times, a rather "deflated" feel to it.

This feeling can be quite pronounced on New Year's Day as some begin the task of holiday cleanup and experiencing weather that is cold and days that are short.

One way of dealing with this deflated feeling is by turning our attention to resolutions we make for the New Year, which can be a helpful exercise. In my experience, though, I find resolutions to be short-lived. There is another alternative. It is an alternative that is symbolized by all those decorations we are packing away for another year. That is, we enter into the New Year focusing on the joy that is at the heart of Christmas.

The noted Catholic priest and author, Raniero Cantalamessa, recently published an article on the presence of joy in the story of Jesus' birth. Turning to Luke's gospel, he writes: "Luke's account is not about just a few scattered mentions of joy but rather about a steady stream of quiet, profound joy."

He goes to say that this joy is not about what the people of the story had done to be joyous but on rather what God had done in their lives and in our world. The source of the joy within the story and within the life of faith "is the action of God in history — a God who acts."

I understand Christmas means many things to many different people and cultures. Our traditions and ways of celebrating are amazingly varied, yet for the person of faith, this proclamation of joy is meant to be carried with us throughout the year. This is not some sort of resolution of committing ourselves to be happy.

No, this is a recognition that our faith is a meant to be a way of joy. It is a way, or path, where we grow into an ever-deepening understanding and experience of the joy of a God who walks with us in our days.

During Christmas, we sing "Joy to the World" and we certainly the see the word "joy" featured in all sorts of displays and in Christmas cards, some even name their daughters Joy. Amidst the prevalence of the word, I can't help but wonder if we sometimes miss the truth that joy is meant to be a calling on our lives. To use the biblical metaphor, joy is meant to be a "fruit" that grows out of God's presence within us.

Joy is not the result of getting everything we want or things going our way. Joy is not having the perfect life or even the perfect holiday. Joy is what grows within us as we turn our eyes to the Lord who is our Immanuel, our God with us.

So, as we step into 2018, as we put away our Christmas decorations and stop singing our Christmas carols, I pray that in this year we will not pack away our joy. Instead, may we ask God for a "stream of quiet, profound joy" to fill our lives and as we look to the world around us, may that joy flow through us to a world in need.

"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.