Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hope for the Holidays…

One decent part of how our culture “celebrates” the holidays is the expectation that it be a joyful season. Sure, much of that festivity seems wildly manufactured; loud TV announcers declaring “THE DEAL OF THE CENTURY”, cheesy marketing posters showcasing smiling families in name brand clothing. Some of what counts as ‘holiday cheer’ can mask a kind of greed, or shallowness of spirit, or something. Nevertheless, we could do worse than encouraging joy this time of year. Imagine we gave into the dark days and cold nights, hunkered down, hibernated, awaited Spring. Depressing, amen?!

Fortunately, we don’t. We sing carols, wear bright sweaters, resurrect time-honored traditions and put on a happy face. The desire to feel joy- to bathe in it and share it with others- that lifts many a mood. Even if it feels forced at times.

Because it can, right? Often, it does. After all, coupled with glossy coupons and internet deals are news reports of impeding economic doom across the pond and here at home, continued uncertainty at work, reminders of family turmoil. Minus the holiday sentiment, our communities’ collective mood resides currently near the drain. At least, that’s how it seems to me, though I suspect I’m not alone.

A cynical person, then, might sneer at holiday cheer, deriding an anchorless culture that tries to buy its way into feeling better. I’ve heard that said before, even felt such frustration or protest or despair sneak its way into my soul. Yet I simply can’t find a way to give into the doldrums or awash my worldview in anger. Sorry to say, my friends, but I’m grateful to be alive.

And not just in the, “I’m supposed to say that” sense. I’m truly, blissfully humbled for the gift of life in this world. I type these letters on a wizard machine, or so our ancestors would assess computers. Given prudent saving and a little luck, I might fly somewhere for vacation, eventually. Even if I pay more for bacon and Brussels sprouts that I’d prefer my regular food choices are by all objective measures dazzling. Assuming I don’t mess up the cooking!

Yes, life can be hard. My responsibilities and stress levels this past year have been, at times, overwhelming. But I’m well aware that what I struggle with is nowhere near as tough as many- most?- of the world’s population. So forgive me if I don’t share the culture’s dire assessment of life today. I want things to get better, absolutely; I especially want life to improve for the poor, the lonely, the jobless and abused in our midst. For that reason, I give money, time and more to benefit ‘the least of these.’ But I’m also frustrated with the doomsayers, those who just can’t find anything good to say. Especially when such commentators have a lot to be thankful for.

Thus, I’m hoping that our congregation will buck trends this Advent, and celebrate the joy of Christmas with guileless, uninhibited abandon! Remember, the story of our Savior’s birth isn’t without dark sides or rough edges. There was no room in the inn; a manger crib certainly stank! When it ended, Joseph and Mary returned to fragile peasant living. Nevertheless, the Holy Mother said, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” For she believed, and in time Jesus would prove definitively, that the Author of Creation showers all our days with love, desires abundant life for all life from now until the end of time. Indeed, through the eyes of faith, we see in that Christmas babe a vision of what God’s great heart intended- a good, good life for all God’s children, united through grace.

So I invite you, as we worship together this holiday season, ring bells and give gifts and swap stories old and new, to claim personally the deepest truths of our faith- that joy is our inheritance, that love will always win. And even if it feels forced at times, more a hope or prayer than a heartfelt fact, for now, to declare that the life we lead is a good, good life indeed. For as Jesus’ followers we know, Christ was born for this.

Grace and Peace,

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