In an attempt to overcome my over-riding Grinch tendencies, I’ve chosen a theme to aspire to this season. Just so happens, a commercial was on recently singing the old tune “have a holly, jolly Christmas”, and I decided right then and there to make it my inspirational goal. It’s out there though, so the results may be dubious. I’m not quite sure what the Crystal version of ‘jolly’ might look like: could be scary. Anything so out of character is probably as uncomfortably sweaty as an oversized polyester, fake-fur Santa suit, which incidentally, is exactly it reminds me of. Ask anyone what they think of when you say ‘jolly’, and I’m sure St. Nick would come into it somehow.
So, the next logical question to ask might be “How does one become jolly?” “What makes someone jolly?” How do you know when your joviality is authentic? Is that an assessment for an objective third party, or is it acceptable to say “I feel jolly”? What a conversational stopper that one might be if you threw it out to the festive table! I can imagine the thundering silence. They might take one long look at you and call an ambulance.
If you’re looking for a technical definition, which, (for those of you who know my methods), is where I always start, “jolly” runs something like this:
1. To be full of good humor and high spirits; jovial, cheerfully festive
2. To be delightful, charming, greatly pleasing
3. Lively; convivial
(The Free Dictionary, Dictionary.com)
I feel better already. Jolly has got to be a physical sign of internal joy. What if you could slough off all the burdens of the season and just groove on the sheer sensual, sacred revelry of it all? No need to be overburdened by dread, conscience, your own messy back-history or the attitudes of others. Sounds revolutionary! At least, it would be in my world. Technically, I’m a plodding data analyst, which is why my holiday preparation consists of mentally exploring potential pitfall scenarios and considering them very circumspectly. Then, you need a plan for coping. Being jolly, though, is probably the complete opposite of all that. Somehow it captures a blithe light-heartedness; simply enjoying the moment you are in, and those you are in it with. It could mean letting go of fears and foibles and the inevitable fallout that occurs when you are carefree and others are not. I’m not even sure if it’s possible to be jolly if others around you aren’t in the same convivial mood. I think they just call that insensitive.
Studying the Old Testament indubitably points out to me that the Trinity believes in jolly. The festivals, ordained by Law in Israel were really times of enforced thankfulness and merrymaking; the ancient version of ‘don’t worry, be happy’. They were markers to break the inevitable anxiety and daily grind to refocus. Countless times, when dealing with his fearful and gloomy disciples, Jesus says “be of good cheer” or “rejoice”; pretty milquetoast in the English, but linguistically carrying the weight of ‘be boldly high-spirited’. Therefore, at Nativity, when the Almighty sends magnificent angel choirs trumpeting the news of joy and good tidings, you can be sure He’s mighty ebullient over something! Somehow, we need to get on His wavelength.
Our happiness these days has gotten sadly diluted. We might be momentarily exultant over a good parking spot or giggle over a fun cat video, but deep down, bone-deep joy is not coming easily to this generation. We’re going to have to fight for it. I’m hunting for a witty scriptural illustration of the whole ‘jolly’ spectrum and coming up blank. The recounts of someone having a good belly laugh are few and far between. The only thing that springs to mind is 2 Corinthians 9:7.
Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.
The word for cheerful here is unusual; a single-use Greek word ‘hilaros’, from which we get our English word “hilarious”. It carries the captivating idea of being a quick-to action, responsive to need, an ungrudging giver. Somehow, this strikes me as the essence of ‘jolly’. It’s not just being mindlessly happy, it’s the spirit that taps down in to the fathomless river of God, releasing its supply. These rarities of generosity are the true carriers of God’s unfathomable heart of giving.
There’s a wonderful moment found in Nehemiah that captures the plutonium core to God’s concept of holy festival attitudes and actions.
Then he said to them, "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." Nehemiah 8:10 NASB
The words are primitive and a bit dusty, but they’ve lost none of their powerful initial gravitas. Notice how it’s both about physical preparation and mental re-adjustment? Maybe these directives for festival seasons aren’t so archaic after all. To find our ‘jolly’ again may mean returning to the age-old paths of celebration where grief, toiling, trouble and fear are not allowed to corrupt the pure emotion that should be flowing between ourselves and the Lord. The paradox of life’s everyday difficulties superimposed against the dominion of an everlasting kingdom is real, and it’s not hypocritical to embrace both at the same time.
Jolly. We set our minds to determine that nothing and no one is going to get between us and the allotment of joy ordained for the day. Take your shoes off on the holy ground of faith. Honor others with your respect. Freely pour out your love on the unworthy and recalcitrant. Meet need with supply when you can. Exult in the kingdom of God and forcibly seize it for common good when possible. Don’t look back with regret. Let your heart be light.
Protect your bliss.