A Christmas Tale

Sometimes words and events loop around through decades, swaddling together, as if meant to be.

A couple of years ago, during the dark, dark days of lockdown (how quickly we forget), we three were sitting around our table after dinner and we did that thing everyone does now and then: we looked up the meaning of our names. One name remains etched into our daily life from that night: Young Adult’s middle name, Kay.

When the Little One first arrived twenty one years ago she brought her own christened names with her, and only her surname was changed in the course of adoption. Her given middle name, Kay, was the name of my much loved great aunt Kay. It was a family name that we might easily have chosen for her, and it rang true in our ears with a sense of affirmation.

Kay, we discovered in the dictionary, or the google as it is these days, is not one of those names that has a dozen varied meanings from which you can choose according to taste; it has just one: Rejoice. This discovery was startling and, well, joyous, and the Young Adult took to it like the proverbial duck. She has held it tightly to herself since. At that time she had no knowledge of the use I make of the word Rejoice as the title for these pages; and certainly no knowledge of my attachment to the word which goes back well before her own life began. 

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On a recent trip back to Tamworth this photo from the mid ‘80s surfaced. I was a youth pastor long ago, and this ute served me in my day job as a carpenter, as well as being a mobile testament to the zealotry of youth. I was awfully zealous. I made the lettering from red contact plastic, with a matching “He Lives” on the passenger door and an accompanying verse of scripture on the tailgate. Cutting the whole thing out with a blade knife at the kitchen table must have taken quite a while. There were members of our youth group who would bury their heads under the glove box so that they wouldn’t be publicly identified in my radically embarrassing vehicle.

My attachment to the good word goes back further still. At the age of seven I was given a Good News New Testament on the occasion of my birthday by Mosman Congregational Church Sunday School. A while later, in a challenging time of life, I discovered that the words of this book had a peaceful effect that could be felt deep within. In the Letter to the Philippians I found a particularly attractive word, repeated numerous times:

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, Rejoice!”

Although I was still young, this good word, Rejoice, entered my soul as sunlight warms and feeds a tree. It held excitement and promise which resonated, and perhaps for the first time I felt the pull of calling. It was a word with a forward motion, it was grateful, it was buoyant, it was strong. I say all this in my 60s, but I do think I felt these things in my childhood.

In the good old days, school pencil cases had little plastic pockets on the outside and a card of letters from which you were meant to cut your name. I cut out a different word, obviously, which is still in my office all these years later:

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Now back to the heart of this story. Young Adult seized on this meaning of her name with delight. It was as if she had been waiting for it (or it for her?) for the whole of her life. It’s implication was immediate and self evident to her: I am Rejoice, and I give people Joy. She does exactly that; she is (at her best) a living, moving fountain of joy. Her disregard for convention and social boundaries (lets be honest, it’s more than disregard, it is complete ignorance of such artifices) allows her to inject her joyful presence deep within anyone at all. She has this keen sense for the person who needs some joy; its as if she can sniff the faintest scent of gloom and hunts it down. She is funny; wonderfully, outrageously, innocently funny; and her simple wisdom delivered with warmth and joy and too many hugs is miraculously restorative. I’ve watched her at work countless times, and it is thrilling. 

Ever since that evening around our table she has been telling people, friends, strangers, support workers, anyone at all,

“My name is Rejoice!” Sometimes pronounced in the rush just as “Joyce”, which works too.

I offer this to you as a Christmas story. A true tale where divine destiny intersects our mortal lives with hope. A child comes with heaven’s gift. The Light of another realm blazes forth in our own. Joy flourishes in an unlikely and humble corner, sweeping us along in its clean, abundant truth.

Rejoice!

8 thoughts on “A Christmas Tale

  1. Robin Nance

    Thanks Rod. Its always a pleasure to read “Rejoice”.

    May you and yours have a blessed New Year.

    Rob and Carol

  2. Judy Shilson-Josling

    O gosh Rod, how fantastic! And joyful! You would’ve been a terrific pastor, as I felt so happy this morning having read your words.
    Whilst I am a definite heathen these days, I first met you and your brother Hamish at Mosman Congregational Church long long ago. I had a small white wicker ‘Sunday school bag’ with a hanky in it (a girl always carried one) which I left on the swing at the church one day. There were tears from this seven-year old when I realised it was gone.
    But I digress! Thanks again Rod for another beautiful instalment of ‘Rejoice’. Wishing u and Karen love, kindness and good health for 2023.
    Judy

  3. Jason Handscomb

    Ahhhh,

    The ol XB REJOICE / HE LIVES mobile !

    Them were the days when we sang, “ rejoice in the Lord all-ways,and again I say Rejoice !, Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say Rejoice ! ” in rounds at church and around the kitchen table.

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year Rod !

    >

  4. Carol Nance

    Rejoice indeed. We continue to marvel at God’s gracious hand in your life when we think of all the hurdles you have faced, and then seen the blessings you leave in your wake, indeed like the wake behind a vessel in the water, the wake spreading in a wide V until it finally hits the distant shore. And we’ve been touched by that wave. Bless you, Carol

  5. Dear friend, it’s very good to hear from you. I’m pretty bad at correspondence on this blog, as you can see. We had Jody and a great van load of your offspring here around Christmas for a few years, on the pilgrimage to Melbourne. If you are ever passing by we would just love to see you. We aren’t far at all from the Freeway, and we make excellent tea. I trust all is well with you Jason, and I look forward one day to a long chat with you, there’s much to catch up on. – R.

  6. I’m awfully late replying Judy, but I enjoyed your response and your memory form the days at the Cong. Church. I spent last week in Sydney with my brother, sorting through many of my father’s possessions. I was amazed how central the life of that church was in his youth, and in the life of my broader family nearly a century ago. I found it utterly inspiring. If my Christmas Tale brought you some joy you might not be entirely heathen after all…. – R.

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