Christmas is said to be a magical season. Songs and sentimentally sappy t.v. movies proclaim it. And so it is. Fantasy becomes briefly real as millions of people rediscover the virtues of peace and good will among all peoples. They wish for it to last, knowing that without divine help it is beyond their grasp. Yet they cling to it, if only for a few days. What metaphor can we use? It’s like a commercial break amidst the 24 hour news cycle of violence, despair and betrayal: a VRBO commercial promising a beautiful vacation home to escape from reality for a few days for the blissful rest and relaxation you have dreamed of. It’s an enticing fantasy that can’t deliver, but a happy thought to hold for a moment or two. It illustrates how deep the hunger is for peace on earth and good will among all.
The frenetic Christmas season search for moments of Christmas magic, adorned with forced jollity, and the burden of making everyone happy with just the right gifts is not unlike a dog chasing its tail. Yet at the center of vainly chasing after wind is the birth of the Messiah, the hinge on which history pivots, and the true hope for which humanity searches.
As one friend said recently, keep your eyes on the baby. Here lies the light that darkness cannot extinguish. This is the hope of the ages born into reality. There is nothing magically sentimental about it. It is rough, poor, scandalous, and ignored by all but a few shepherds. What could be more scandalously improbable than the Word of God made flesh in a baby born of an unwed virgin in a borrowed stable during a cruel and violent time. The Word of God nourished for nine months by the body and blood of a young woman. The Word of God born as a helpless baby, utterly dependent on humanity for all its needs. The power of the cosmos lying helplessly vulnerable.
Here is the center that, contrary to Yeats, can and does hold. It is of a piece that forms the single event of Christ’s birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection. It is the event through which hope for peace and goodwill becomes a reality. If the redemption of the world from strife is not yet fully recognized, it is because, as the Christmas hymn proclaims, we are unwilling to “hush the noise and cease your strife, and hear the angels sing.” The light of Christ, however flickering when carried in our hands, illuminates the kingdom of God that is near,. Jesus commanded his followers to “let their lights so shine that others may see their good works and give glory to their Father in heaven.” Good works done in Christ’s name are the source of peace and good will so many hunger to
The Christmas season is a good time to rekindle the lights we are each called to bear. When New Year’s Day is over, and the blahs of January set in, it is time the church hs set aside to bear the light with even greater courage and determination into a world that has forgotten the magical sentimentality of the holidays, but hungers even more for the reality of hope, peace and good will. The world will be reluctant. Laying fantasy aside, the world will resume its usual course of violence, vengeance, and mistrust fueled by greed, vanity, and lust for power. It will fail them, as it always has. But the kingdom of God illuminated by the light of Christ will always be near in the presence of those who carry it. The darkness will never overcome it, and the hope it promises will be delivered to any willing to receive it.