In often disappointing world, holiday really can offer hope

Wow, hard to believe it’s already that time of year.
Light displays, colorful decorations, evergreen boughs and trees, delicious treats, the Christmas spirit.
I particularly enjoy hearing some of the old Christmas carols at this time of the year. Most of those written before the last century tend to focus on the religious aspect of the holiday, and they don’t get the public play they once did – kids don’t sing them in public schools any more, although we might still hear them occasionally in stores.
I don’t think too many of us would argue that our world isn’t becoming increasingly secular, but at Christmas – if at any time in the year – it’s a good opportunity to think about what started it all.
“Christmas spirit” definitely resonates, particularly as we emerge from the chaos and confusion of COVID.
It’s great seeing old traditions revive, but there’s no question, no matter which side of the aisle we’re on, that the pandemic has hit us hard, even if we haven’t lost our sense of taste.
Societally, we’re not what we were a few years ago. COVID-19 has changed how we communicate, how we care for others, how we educate our children, how we work, how we hire workers, how we hold meetings, how we worship – not to mention the anxiety, irritability, the emotional disregulation created by what’s happened and the physical and emotional symptoms that stem from those causes.
Things seem to be edging back to what many of us would consider “normal,” but I don’t think I’m the only one wondering if life will ever get back to what it was pre-2020.
It’s times like these that “Christmas spirit” sounds like just about what we need.
But Christmas can be complicated.
I recently came across a little book entitled “The Four Emotions of Christmas,” written by a guy named Bob Lepine, who’s also a radio host. It’s not a long read – 60-some pages, but it gets right to the point, which I think is well worth considering in this season.
The first three emotions he lists are disappointment, stress, and sadness. The fourth is joy.
Disappointment? Stress? Sadness? For Christmas?
Lepine explains, in sometimes uncomfortably forthright terms.
When December rolls around, he notes, we often really don’t get what we’re hoping for from of the holiday season. We want happiness, harmonious relationships, maybe perfection.
“Anyone who has lived through a few dozen Decembers knows that a Christmas filled with happiness and harmony and everything working out perfectly is an ambition that is rarely achieved,” Lepine says, going on to observe that accepting that reality may be a step in the right direction, but we all know that it’s never going to be perfect.
Stress: Hmmm. Getting those presents purchased (although it’s been more fun going back to the mall this year, at least for the younger folks). Maintaining those traditions. Preparing those elaborate meals (sorry, I’m not quite ready to dine at the diner on the big day yet.) Not to mention the financial stress and debt people suffer, trying to maintain the above.
Lepine notes how a “holy day,” used to push people to “commemorate some aspect of their religious faith.” But it has morphed into something else, a holiday – a day off from work, a day to watch parades or Disney specials, football, movie reruns. To relax. Maybe party. Which isn’t all bad, except, he asks, “who’s slowing down and cultivating a healthy inner life?”
Amidst all the glitter and (at least outward) gaiety of the season, Lepine notes that there is often sadness – even despair – that arises, often the result of fractured relationships or long-buried unhappiness.
This isn’t unique to us. Lepine observes that the biblical prophet Isaiah described a darkness experienced by his nation prior to the coming of the “great light” he foretold, which was the metaphor he used to describe the coming of Jesus Christ.
Maybe things haven’t changed all that much.
Lepine notes that joy is an emotion that runs counter, or is a solution to the previous three. And he suggests that the “merry” in Christmas is linked tightly to the “remembering Christ, our Savior was born on Christmas Day,” quoting that five-centuries-old carol (“God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen”).
We live in a world that is confusing and evil, seemingly constant bad news: horrible injustices (Myanmar, the Ukraine, the Uyghur genocide in China), outrageous evils that occur right here in ou rown land. In addition to mass shootings, riots and other such, se see dishonesty (fraud’s up more than 70% over the last two years), selfishness and individualism, general coarseness, and other indications that we’re not getting nicer.
Values once treasured by our society are changing rapidly, not always for the better.
“We live in a world that is broken,” says Lepine. “And we see that brokenness in our own lives as well. When we’re honest, we realize that the more we take control, the more of a mess things become.”
To me, a guy who is seemingly constantly bombarded (as are many readers) with bad news, these are honest and worthwhile considerations as we find ourselves in another Christmas season. There’s a lot more to Lepine’s book, but you’ll have to read it.
Somebody else with an alternative insight into this holiday was the writer of one of those Christmas carols I mentioned at the outset: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” (Which, by the way, is the carol sung by the cast at the end of that Christmas classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”)
The song was authored by Charles Wesley, who composed at least 6,500 in his lifetime, including many still sung in churches today.
One thing I’ve noticed about guys like Wesley, who had a lot of time to think as they walked everywhere (unlike us in our crazy, high-speed, frenetic modern world): They were really good at creating poetry that was pithy, and which communicated ideas that, frankly, might be worth paying attention to in a world in which we often depend on our own volition to negotiate the rat race of life.
This is a different perspective on Christmas than many of us experience today:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful all ye nations rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem;”
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king.”

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel;
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king.”

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
risen with healing in His wings;
Mild, He lays His glory by,
born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king.”

Timeless, hope-filled words about what this holiday is about.
May your Christmas be very merry!