[Episcopal News Service] What we want for Christmas is often very different from what we get for Christmas. It’s been that way from the very first. The chosen people wanted a powerful Messiah who would smite their enemies. Instead they got a helpless newborn who when grown would tell them to love their enemies. For some this big surprise meant a big disappointment. For hundreds of millions of others over twenty centuries it has meant hope – the greatest Christmas gift of all. Once again, what God sends is far better than what people ask for.
Easter is the feast of fulfillment – our redemption through the risen Christ. It is the culmination of the promise of Christmas. But at Christmas all of that seems so far away. Our journey with Jesus has just begun. Everything is new again.
In the darkest days of the solar year, we celebrate a God who humbled himself for us. We honor the obedience and acceptance of Mary and Joseph. We rejoice with the shepherds and exalt with the angels. The miracles, the parables, the sacrifice…they are all ahead of us. What we have now is hope, the very first and the very best Christmas gift. And that’s a lot.
What’s so great about hope? You can’t touch it. You can’t see it. You can’t buy it or sell it. But try living without it. G. K. Chesterton wrote that: “Hope is as unreasonable as it is indispensable.” Without hope we would be crushed by disappointment, by disease, by all the twists and turns of real life. In a troubled marriage, in addiction, in sin and in suffering, hope is our refuge. It is the wellspring of our courage. Hope lifts us up. It banishes fear. It opens us to possibilities.
That’s because hope has such a solid foundation. Hope is the confident expectation of God’s love and the blessings that flow from it. Where do we find hope? We don’t. It finds us. It is one of God’s gifts of grace. But unlike so many other Christmas gifts, hope does come with batteries – the grace of God fresh and alive in the new born Jesus. All we have to do is ask for it, accept it, embrace it, thank God for it and share it.
Hope is not a gift we sock away for a rainy day. We have to keep it alive and vigorous. We have to exercise it. We must live in hope for hope to live in us. While hope comes with these rigid requirements, the other option is pretty dismal. As preacher Gilbert Brenken observed: “Other men see only a hopeless end, but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope.” It reminds us that as successive Christmases race by, we are hurrying home to where we belong, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. “Esperanza” is the Spanish word for hope. It is such a lovely word. It captures the soaring spirit of hope – the ultimate confidence of a Christian life.
This Christmas let’s really enjoy the gift of hope. With God’s other graces, it is already in you. Reach into your spiritual closet. Take it out. Try it on. Get comfortable with it. Take it for a test drive. Share it with the family. Show it to the neighbors. Ask God to keep hope fresh every day.
The Venerable Bede left us this simple devotion to pray each morning: “O Christ, our Morning Star, come and waken us from the grayness of our apathy and renew in us your gift of hope.”
– The Rev. David F. Sellery is rector of St. Peter’s By-the-Sea Church and Day School in Bay Shore, New York.