O riginally published in December 2010 on Fuller Theological Seminary’s website as part of the “Christmas Joy: Voices from the Fuller Community” series. To read this piece on fuller.edu, click here.

Christmas Ingredients

Lately I’ve been really into baking. My daily life as a seminary student—hunched over a laptop, scribbling notes, thinking until my brain hurts—begs for hands kneading yeasty dough, for fragrant cinnamon awakening the senses, everything eventually punctuated by chocolate chips. I have a finished product in my hands in less time than it takes to write a reading response. Christmas is the perfect time for baking, and instead of studying I find myself daydreaming about the treats I will make for holiday parties and gifts: German burnt sugar almonds? My tried-and-true bourbon banana bread? Peppermint brownies à la the Starbucks pastry case?

I’m also eagerly anticipating other ingredients essential to the holiday. In my family, that means a Christmas Eve outing to Chinatown for slippery shrimp, opening gifts early in the morning before pecan sticky rolls at Grandma’s house, English crackers and paper crowns at dinner, and singing “Joy to the World” in our uniquely off-key way. There’s always extra laughter and a dash more grace than we usually have for each other.

In my personal experience, Christmas also means seeing my name—“Joy”—on signs and mantles and mugs, and more people making comments about it. “Are you feeling joyful this Christmas, Joy?” they might ask. Or, if I’m looking too sad or serious: “Aren’t you supposed to be ‘Joy to the world?’” These comments have always irked me and sprinkled a bitter flavor in otherwise sweet times. Of course, as a human being I will feel and express many emotions—I can’t be joyful all the time. Yet that doesn’t assuage the guilt I feel when someone points out my less-than-bubbly attitude.

But recently I read some words by C. S. Lewis, saying that God does not merely pity us but delights in us, so that each of us is “a real ingredient in the divine happiness.” Emmanuel—God with us—whose coming brought joy to the whole world, allows me to sweeten his happiness like no one else can. And that knowledge makes this holiday richer than anything I could whip up.