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This won’t last long, I think. These are Christmas lights and, look, it’s already December 19. I know, I know; we got a late start this year.

But it will be worth it, yeah? Because decorations are part of it. Because untangling strings is a holiday tradition. Because light is joy, no? Or so they say.

So we hung the lights — three strings, all battered from the New 2 You shelves — but they turned out to work only sometimes. We checked beforehand, of course, but Christmas lights always light when you test them and never when you hang them.

But this is joy.

I wrapped them around the handrail. Over, under, over, under. It looked a little bit even, but a lot uneven. And some of my lights required twisting and retwisting for them to even flicker. One of the bulbs fell off.

He started on the spindles. Around and around we go. But that gets really boring really quickly, so the symmetry ended soon enough. The one side had strings going every which way. No design. No order. Whatever felt right in the wrists and the spine in that moment.

It looked okay. It looked unprofessional. It looked bachelor pad.

But this is joy.

I think we turned them on only three times. The first time they didn’t work.

No one ever saw them turned on except us. Who did I think was going to see them? Once, around New Years, somebody came over, saw the carcass of Christmas cheers strung wildly around the stairs and said, “Are those Christmas lights?”

“Yeah.”

“You should have spelled something with them.”

“Yeah, probably.”

But we couldn’t do them in a straight line. How were we supposed to spell words? How were we supposed to write Jesus is Born in lights, legibly, on a handrail?

But sort of we did, because God is light, and this is joy.

* * *

A friend of mine just told a story about conversations he has with a guy he knows. My friend believes Jesus is the Light of the World and the Savior of the Universe and the Son of God. The guy doesn’t believe any of it.

The guy is smart. Earth sciences, philosophy, physics, anthropology. He knows why when he says, “There is no God.”

The guy says, “Everything is relative, and if there is a Truth with a capital T, we can’t know it. Religion is homicidal. Religion causes war. And there’s no solid evidence for miracles. Show me a miracle, please! And science disproves God.” And he says, “God is dead. Prove me wrong.”

So my friend says, “Think about morality. Think about purpose in life. Think about how everyone worships one thing or another. Think about the power of Love and Truth and Prayer. Yeah, prayer; it works. I’ve seen it work. And I can tell you how Jesus changed my life. Really changed it. Like, I lived and thought and acted one way, and then I was transformed into an impossibly new creation. And now I live and think and act this way, which isn’t perfect, but is striving for it.” And he says, “I know who I was, and I know who I am. And, by Jesus’ redeeming blood, they are not the same.”

And the guy says, “Well, what about this and that and the other thing?”

And my friend says, “But here’s this and that and this and that.”

And back and forth it goes. Reason. Apologetics. Giving an answer for the hope.

…but look at all this evidence.

…but look at all these lives.

…but science.

…but faith.

…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Maybe something has changed. But maybe nothing. Maybe a seed has been planted. But maybe this is rocky ground.

And the guy says to my friend, “I have all these arguments. I have all this evidence. I know what I know, and I know why. But, in the end, what does it matter? Because I will never have the joy you have.”

* * *

It’s the end of January and I just took the lights down.

It took awhile. Almost as long as it took to put them up. More tangling and untangling, like I’m just out for some regular exercise. More bulbs gone for good, and a few that never used to light now light. I won’t call this a miracle—but ask me again next Christmas.

That’s how long we’ll have to wait for that brand of joy to make its reappearance.

Last year, we kept the Christmas tree up into May. It was up in February and we said, “Maybe we should take that down.”

But then it was up in March and we said, “Now it’s been up for so long, we should just keep it going.”

And in April: “Maybe we can keep it up until December.”

And in May, I came home and it was gone. Maybe his girlfriend told him to take it down.

What’s a Christmas tree in the summertime? Faux joy?

It’s a joy you can put up and take down. You can cut it and water it, but only for so long. Because it eventually rots and dies, and you throw it in the backyard for birds to nest in, or you pack it away in a box to take out next December 24 and put a couple presents under.

All of it, here today and gone tomorrow.

But this is joy?

* * *

That’s not all. That’s not the half of it.

There’s so much more joy than can be found in all the things that smile and laugh and grow and warm. There’s more joy than can be found in all the things that glare and cry and die and rage. There’s more wild, pirouetting joy than you can possibly keep up with. Infinitely more.

Like today, when the sun came through a blue spot in the clouds, like light really is joy, like God’s just ringing the dinner bell and saying, “There’s a lot more where that came from, so come get it.”

Like a Light and a Sun that is there even in the nighttime, even when the bitter, bitter sky of this Chicago winter is clouded over with cumulus a mile thick.

Like God saying in clear words that only you — but every single one of you — can hear: “There is a joy that, literally, never goes away.”

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