As Christmas quickly approaches, many of us harbor hopes for a better, brighter holiday than ever filled with joy, but how do we hold on to that hope through the holidays and beyond?
The holidays seem to herald their approach these days through the Hallmark channel.
Country Living’s “71 Best Christmas Movies to Binge-Watch This Holiday Season” recommends Love Actually, You’ve Got Mail, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Noel, Serendipity, The Princess Switch, Four Christmases, The Santa Clause 2, The Holiday, A Christmas Prince, While You Were Sleeping, Remember the Night…
The list goes on and on and on, but you know what major plot point all of these movies have in common besides Christmas? Somebody falls in love.
Romance has become such a major focal point during the holidays that December is the top month for proposals, with Christmas Day being the most popular day to have your date go down on one knee. It’s followed closely by Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. “This time of year evokes such an emotional response in people that they sometimes want to hide from the negative things going on in their lives and focus on the happy stuff,” says Carlen Costa, a therapist. “Instead of facing reality, it’s easier to just go into Christmas dreamland and pretend everything is okay.”
The problem is the ‘Christmas dreamland’ can’t stop reality from crashing back into our lives. Incidentally, January signals the start of breakup season, coinciding ever so suspiciously with some of the year’s highest rates of depression.
All of our hope, all of those God-sized expectations, unfortunately came down on another flawed human being, and that never ends well. We don’t even need to be in a romantic relationship to start pinning our hope onto parts of this season that simply won’t last. So how do we avoid having disappointed hopes?
About 5,000 Holiday Invitations
Everything in Christmas’s hyper-commercialized marketing campaign is aimed at getting you to believe that you just need [fill in the blank] to be happy, and thus hope is born.
This promise of lasting delight sneaks its way into almost every commercial and movie and quite a few conversations as well.
“The whole world yearns for a steadfast hope,” David Wilkerson commented. “The inner cry of multitudes around the globe right now is, ‘Somebody, somewhere, please, give me some hope, something that will last.’…
“Many wonderful books have been written by people who maintained hope through their awful tragedies and hardships. Their testimonies encourage us, giving our faith a great lift. But, again, our hope fades whenever a severe trial arises in our own lives. The sufferings we endure dash whatever steadfast hope we thought we had. Why? Hope is not a feeling.
“Tell me, how many times has your expectation for something good failed you? How many times has your human hope been crushed? How often have you felt like the apostle Paul, who said when he endured a hurricane at sea, ‘All hope that we should be saved was then taken away’ (Acts 27:20)?”
Christmas is, even in secular arenas, about the promise of hope. The difference comes between how many options are offered and how long these sources of hope last.
A secular Christmas will tempt us with 5,000 different invitations for hope: the perfect presents, family time, romance, an epic proposal, watching movies, Christmas tree cutting, boozy egg nog, a trip down nostalgia lane. All of these things are so fragile, though. One grumpy relative or accidental injury or bout of egg nog food poisoning can abruptly put the whole holiday on the rocks.
Nothing that unstable is worth standing on or entrusting with your heart.
We know this fact, and we usually manage to keep it in sight the rest of the year, but somehow as soon as carols start playing, we can easily lose sight of what will actually fulfills our desires and dreams.
Finding that Peace on Earth
So what is the real and full answer to our hope? What will make it last beyond December 31st? It feels slightly trite to answer, “Jesus” in the same way that the little religious jingle ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ feels slightly too chipper and easy.
Reflecting on his past cynicism about Christmas, Abdu Murray wrote, “I remain hopeful that we’ll see spiritual Christmas afresh. Amid the cacophony of holiday movies, A Charlie Brown Christmas stands out for its enduring popularity and its profound message. Charlie Brown becomes so disillusioned with Christmas’s commerciality that he can no longer contain himself. ‘Can anyone tell me the true meaning of Christmas?!’ he shouts to his friends.
“His buddy Linus takes up the challenge by reciting Luke 2:8–14. Those verses recount the Savior’s birth and how it signals the reconciliation between God and humanity. Indeed, the program ends with the kids’ hope-filled voices belting out ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’: ‘Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled.’
“So what’s a skeptic to do with Christmas? Perhaps one could ask Charlie Brown’s question and find an answer to outgrow the increasingly superficial season and the accompanying cynicism. Perhaps all of us can grow into a season of enduring joy and peace.”
There it is, the meaning of Christmas that goes further than just answering ‘Jesus.’
Beneath all the demands for presents and romance and traditions, we’re aching for reconciliation with God. We were made for something else in another world than the one we know, and anything less will only temporarily sooth that ache (if it can even manage that much).
“The fact is, you can have no settled peace, no true hope,” David Wilkerson said, “until you no longer waver about your acceptance in Christ. This acceptance is based on not what your flesh accuses you of being, or what the devil accuses you of being. It is based solely on what God sees you to be in Christ.”
The Christian Christmas offers only one hope in a manager and a narrow road that leads up to the base of a bloodied cross. It’s a hope that doesn’t pressure other people to fulfill it but rather demands that we allow ourselves to be redefined by our maker. Once in this process of transformation, we find less and less need for the world’s promises of hope; and simultaneously, we enjoy those moments and gifts more and more.
The romantic story we’re looking for this Advent goes far deeper than any Hallmark movie, and only it can satisfy this longing in us for hope.