Jim Ryan, On Joy and the Christmas Season

“It seems fitting in this season of Christmas to share some joy with you all—or at least some insights into the meaning of joy and how you can find it and spread it.”

So began long-time faculty member Jim Ryan in Hall on December 6, reflecting on the Christmas holiday and what it means to him. “Joy somehow seems inextricably tied to this season of Christmas. It’s in the title and in the lyrics of many of the carols that are sung—Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines joy as ‘a feeling of great happiness.’ For most of you, the most imminent experience of joy will be that ‘feeling of great happiness’ that comes once your mid-year exams are over. I love that we have the Holiday Concert on the heels of exams being done. It is a source of joy for me and for the community to see so many of you sharing the gift of song. I often see smiles of joy among those in the audience as you regale us with music for the holiday season.”

Throughout the year, members of the RL community take the stage in Rousmaniere Hall to share their experiences of faith, from a range of religious traditions—especially around the time of annual celebrations. The experience and exploration of spiritual life, in its rich variety of forms, has long been an important part of a Roxbury Latin education. In advance of one of the most joyful holidays of the Christian calendar, Mr. Ryan shared with students and fellow faculty members what the holiday meant to him as a child, and what it has come to mean to him as an adult. He told stories—funny and poignant—about Christmas mornings in his house, with his three siblings and loving parents. He also shared stories of Jesus’s birth as told in the Bible, —from the Gospel of Matthew, and the Gospel of Luke. He told the origin story of Santa Claus—of St. Nicholas, a third-century bishop who was born in a small village in what is now modern-day Turkey who gave to the poor.

Mr. Ryan spoke, ultimately, about the importance of God’s presence in his own life, and of the many gifts he has been blessed with over his lifetime.

“Every day is a kind of Christmas, in that God meets me, or comes to me, where I am in my life—in the joyful moments and in the messy ones. That joy is not just a feeling. It is a joy that comes from a growing confidence in God, who joins me… and takes care of me.”

In conclusion, Mr. Ryan asked the students, “What are the sources of joy in your life? Maybe it’s a well-crafted essay in Mr. Randall’s class. Maybe it’s the joy of creating art under the careful guidance of Mr. Buckley. Or maybe it’s the companionship you’ve found in one or more of your RL brothers. Recognize those sources of joy and cherish them.”

“And finally: What gifts do you have to offer others? Because there’s joy in sharing our gifts. There’s joy to be found in serving others. I ask you to think about what gifts you have to offer. Maybe it’s your time. Maybe it’s your kindness. Perhaps your selflessness. Your companionship. Your concern. Your compassion. Your talents. Your vulnerability. Maybe you can gift someone the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps best of all, you can offer your presence—not presents, but presence. Walk with those who’ve been placed in your life. Accompany them. Be present to them. Be a source of joy to them. Do not believe the lie that you are powerless, that you are unimportant, that you are too small to make a difference in the world or in someone else’s life. The truth is that you can—now, at this time in your life—bring joy, comfort, and peace through simple acts of friendship and forgiveness, patience and compassion, all of which you can give to others as gifts every day of the year. So, whatever your faith or tradition, I hope that in the coming weeks and months, that you may have joy—abundant joy—in your life and that you might bring that joy to others.”