This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Grow joy this Christmas

The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there. In this garden, He made the ground pregnant with life—bursting forth with nourishing food and luxuriant beauty. He created trees, and in the center of this garden of delights stood the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen. 2:8-9 The Voice)

This week my focus is on how we grow joy in God’s world, with the emphasis on God’s created world. Celtic Christians believed that creation was translucent and that the glory of God shone through it, so as I take inspiration from Celtic Advent this year, it isn’t surprising that I want to spend a good chunk of time reflecting on creation. Predictably it was Gen. 2:8-9 that came to mind, and especially this beautiful translation. God created our world to be a place of utter delight where all created life flourishes and praises God with its luxuriant beauty. God’s delight, God’s joy is a flourishing creation bursting forth with nourishing food and luxuriant beauty. It is good to remind ourselves of this as we move toward Christmas and the joy of Christ’s birth.

How do we ensure that this garden of delight that God desires to see whole and healthy flourishes, I wonder? It seems we do more to destroy and pollute it than to preserve and grow it.

Once again as I thought about this, the circle motif came to my mind. This symbol of wholeness and completeness is repeated over and over again in nature. It is as though it stands as a constant reminder of God’s desire for wholeness and flourishing.

The circle of the mandala is symbolic for me of the circle of our world. It too is meant to be whole and pregnant with life, a place where we plant and nurture and grow with expectant joy and anticipation until all is flourishing and fruitful. I chose as many different shapes and colors as I could to create my mandala, reminding myself of the rich diversity of God’s creation. At the center is a succulent that has already begun to grow, symbolic of the tree of life at the centre of God’s garden. As I spread out my succulent leaves I prayed for the places and people in our world devastated by the impact of climate change. I prayed for those who work to reverse this devastation and I prayed too for those who are indifferent for it.

My reflections focus too on the God who created that first garden with such obvious joy and I wonder what we can do as we celebrate this God coming into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, to preserve, to grow and encourage flourishing. As I thought about this, I added a string of pearls around the center, reminding me of the pearl of great value whose birthday we are soon to celebrate.

You may not be into succulents, but I am sure that there is some way that you can connect to God’s garden of utter delight at this season. Pause for a few to consider what you could do. You might like to use the suggestions below to stir your own creativity.

Spend time in creation this Advent season.

So many of our Christmas symbols are from the natural world – wreaths and trees, holly and mistletoe. Here are some thoughts on how to connect to God’s garden world and grow you joy in creation as Christ’s birth approaches:

  1. Visit a Christmas tree farm with your family or friends and bring home a live tree, or better yet consider a living tree that you can either keep for many years to come of plant out in your garden as an ongoing reminder of God’s love of creation
  2. Create a living wreath for your house — succulents are great for this, though pine branches and cones also make an excellent wreath that will survive well throughout the season. In the southern hemisphere, poinsettias, waratahs or proteas would be good alternatives.
  3. Plant bulbs either inside, like amaryllis, or outside in expectation of daffodils, tulips and crocuses bursting through the soil in a couple of months.
  4. Visit an outdoor Advent spiral or labyrinth or Christmas tree lighting. So much of what we do at this season (at least in the northern hemisphere) tends to be inside. Consider ways that you can take some of the celebrations of Christmas outside this year. Perhaps we can even learn from our southern hemisphere friends many of whom will spend Christmas on the beach. A good walk along a windswept beach is energizing and at least for me, pregnant with the joy of Christmas.

Simplify, recycle and and give the Earth a break.

The average American will spend more than $1,000 on Christmas this year, often giving gifts no one wants and preparing food we would do better not to consume (says she who has just made her first batch of Scottish shortbread and other goodies for the season.) So we need to think about alternative ways to celebrate without breaking the bank of quenching our joy. I have talked before about ways to simplify at Christmas and many of us want to but find it hard to put the brakes on. I have also talked about some alternative suggestions that help kids give back at Christmas.

Here are a few more suggestions that you might like to consider:

  1. Give a gift of fun. Plan a game night, make something party or special outing like a play date or a visit to your favorite scenic spot to your special friends.
  2. Plan a gratitude scavenger hunt. Plan a gratitude party with friends. At the end of the meal, get each person to share three things they are grateful for that relate to how Christ has impacted their lives.
  3. Go carol singing around the neighborhood. When was the last time carol singers came to your door? This is a dying tradition that can bring much joy to us and to our neighbors.
  4. Have a recycle Christmas. Most of us have enough left overs from DIY projects to make something for everyone on our shopping list. Have a DIY party where people bring leftover items to recycle into new projects.
  5. Buy locally. Most of our towns have artisans who would love you to buy their products. Find the best Christmas fairs in your neighborhood and take your family and friends.
  6. Plant a tree (or a forest). You might want to physically go out and plant trees or donate to an organization that plants trees in devastated and polluted parts of our world.

Christine Sine is co-founder, along with her husband, Tom Sine, of Mustard Seed Associates, a small organization to assist churches and Christian organizations to engage the challenges of the 21st century. She writes at Godspace, where this post originally appeared.

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