Come, thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee.
-from The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 66 (Charles Wesley, 1744)
Of course, the occasion is the reliving of the birth of Jesus, one of the most central events to Christianity and a time of great celebration. There are pageants and gifts, family visits, the choir stays up late, and people attend church in droves. And there are a lot of presents – which have their place, but it’s gotten too commercialized for my taste.
But it’s a struggle some years to get into the Christmas Spirit – especially in times of distress, fear, anxiety about the future, uncertainty, need. And we miss people who used to be with us. I want to get fired up, get all excited and start planning, decorating, buying gifts. It helps set the mood, too, if it’s not eighty degrees outside and it snows once or twice. Some years are worse than others – sometimes a slow start, but the Christmas Spirit begins to take over. There’s a joy that has to triumph over all else.
I remember when I was a boy I was excited about the gifts, what I would get, but also the idea of Santa coming. It was hard to sleep Christmas Eve. We went to church and all, but it wasn’t much about Baby Jesus, except the service and the music – I have to mention the music. That’s an important part of getting into the Spirit. These days some of my favorite Christmas music is by Fats Domino – I play the C.D. over and over every year. But there are many other Christmas carols. Sometimes I even go Christmas caroling.
Giving replaced the receiving of gifts for me long ago as a key source of joy or fulfillment. Giving is of ourselves, our time and attention, affection, not just the giving of things.
But part of the Christmas season, too, is that it comes at the end of the year. We start seeing more of our friends and family, get a few days off, become reflective: what has happened over the past year? What will the new year bring? It gets us thinking.
Which brings me to the point. To me Christmas means hope. Hope embodied in the form of a new child, full of pure wonder, and potential. Hope is what makes it all better. A chance to renew, be reborn, forgiven, to start again. Hope is what gives us faith in a better future, sometimes against the odds, in the face of all logic or reason to the contrary. We have hope for a new and better world.