Christmas Hope

It seems rather harder than usual this year to wish everyone a Happy Christmas. There’s a sense of foreboding in the world. Many of us wait with varying measures of fear and uncertainty for what the effects of Brexit will be, especially for the future of peace and cooperation in Europe; many of us fear a newly confident Russia. Unless one lives with one’s head in a bucket, it’s impossible to escape the unending agony in the Middle East, and now we face the uncertainties of President Trump. What can we say about a candidate who has lied his way into power, openly embraced racist discourse and violence, toyed with the idea of jailing his opponents, boasted of his assaults on women and his avoidance of taxes, and denigrated the traditional checks and balances of government? The former head of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has predicted “great uncertainty” ahead, and it doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to share that pessimism.

It was then that I discovered these words from William Sloane Coffin, who was one of the greatest American preachers of the last century. He said, “hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart’s full of hope, you can be persistent when you can’t be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I’m not optimistic, I’m always very hopeful.”

What I think he was saying was to remind us of the whole point of Christmas. The world was dark and formless, and God’s light came into the world, and we saw something of God, who came among us in the baby Jesus. In Jesus Christ, we can see the face of God.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, what seemed the decisive influence on the world’s life? Surely the decisive influence was Caesar Augustus on his throne, the Roman Empire with its vast extent and power and its legions tramping every road. As for a baby born to a lonely mother in obscure Bethlehem upon the far-fringes of the empire, of what significance could that possibly be? The answer turned out to be surprising. The message of Christmas is that a tiny child holds the destiny of nations, and love is the name of our human journey.

The world may sense fear, and feel alarm, but in the end love is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. That’s what it means when we say we believe in God. That’s what we see in a Bethlehem manager, God come among us. Christmas is a good moment to redirect our lives back to what, in the long run, is the only thing that matters, and to rejoice greatly.

Christina Rossetti put it like this:
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Into a world of doubt, uncertainty, and fear, Christmas says that God is love, with us and for us.

I wish you a really happy Christmas!

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