TACKED THOUGHTS - Nancy Unchuan Toledo (The Freeman) - December 12, 2015 - 9:00am

More than the dull green of plastic trees, I’ve always thought that the vibrantly red poinsettias were much better at communicating the Christmas spirit of joy. So when I came home a few days ago and found a pot of poinsettias in our house, I felt my spirits lift after a long drive home from work.

There are some interesting legends about how the poinsettias came to be associated with Christmas. One story has a poor Mexican girl in the 16th century worrying about not having any gift to give to the Child Jesus. An angel appeared and asked her to pick up some weeds on the side of the road and offer them to the altar. As soon as the leaves were offered, they turned the crimson red of poinsettias. It’s a beautiful story but unfortunately it takes a lot more to turn poinsettia leaves red.

In fact, when my dad first bought poinsettias, he figured they’d turn red like clockwork in time for the following Christmases. That never happened of course because poinsettias don’t turn red by themselves. Poinsettia experts say that in order to get the normally green leaves to turn red, they’d have to put the plant under 12-14 hours of darkness a day and then very bright sunlight. One would have to do this for about two months, coupled with some pruning and other gardening things that I don’t really understand. In other words, it takes a lot of time and effort.

This third Sunday of Advent, we are asked to reflect on joy. Joy is not necessarily something that we seek in and of itself. As one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, it is something that bears fruit in us and is given to us. It is an effect—perhaps of great love, of acts of service, of doing God’s will, of hope fulfilled, of waiting ended, of faith rewarded. Although joy is something that we can plead and beg to be given, it is not necessarily something that we can achieve on our own. We must wait patiently for it, with palms open and arms outstretched, sometimes even with tears. Which is why poinsettias remind me so much of joy.

Poinsettias are as much at home in the darkness as they are in the light. They must understand that some form of pruning is required to bear fruit. Joy, unlike happiness, doesn’t depend on outward circumstances. It doesn’t deny reality but makes peace with it. We’ve all met joyful people who do not have a lot—and miserable people who can have everything money can buy. Some grieving people can still be joyful givers. And some successful people can be reluctant sharers. There are those who choose to focus on what has been given to them and others who dwell on what they missed. The saints show us and our experience teaches us that being joyful is not about what happens to us but Who we hold on to. In this way, we draw strength in times of trial and humility in times of triumph.

When people are truly joyful, they draw others to them. Not everyone will recognize the source of the joy at first, but they will surely recognize its effect. Not everyone knows how poinsettias get their color but even then they will not be able to deny its beauty.

As the pink candle flickers and the poinsettias wave their vibrant red leaves, we wait in anticipation at the coming of Jesus Christ. And may He come to each of us, bearing the gifts of hope, faith, peace, love and joy.

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