Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas is About Hope

Every Christmas, I go on a mini crusade against too much consumerism, too much Santa, too much stress and too little Christ. It’s not much of a crusade, because I’m just as guilty of those things as anyone else. Perhaps even more so. I guess I feel that, if I complain about it, it will somehow make me feel better. So as I shout out Merry Christmas to the world, I add a PS – But you’re getting it all wrong. Despite the fact that I’m getting it wrong myself.

Christmas should be a time of love, joy, peace and hope. I’ve turned into an excuse to point out the world’s faults.

I tend to point out the world’s faults quite a bit. I love to wag my finger at the world and say you’re getting it all wrong. I don’t do this because I need a hobby and finger-pointing seemed like an inexpensive one to choose. I do this because I do really believe that the world gets it terribly wrong sometimes. We place emphasis on materialism and success and downplay love and sacrifice. We judge things by scientific facts and evidence, and lose our ability to appreciate mystery and the sacred. But anyway, this is not meant to be another post about what’s wrong with the world.

And when I say the world has got it wrong, I include myself in that. I have it wrong just as much as the world does. Christ is so important in my life – at least that’s what I say – yet there are many occasions, each and every single day, when I fail to show that he is important. I do the things I don’t want to do and I fail to do the things I should be doing. The way I live is so far from the way I actually want to live.

When I look at how the world gets it wrong, I sometimes get angry. My children are pretty used to suddenly seeing me argue with the TV, when I’ve heard something on the news that I disagree with. Now, they’ve even started doing it themselves.

Sometimes, though, I just get depressed. This is particularly the case when it comes to my own faults. It is hard to continually feel as though I am failing in what I want to do.
Sometimes the situation just seems hopeless. The world has got it so far wrong that it seems impossible they will ever get it right. The problems are too big. People’s attitudes are too wrong. And my own life seems like a never-ending attempt to live the right way and never getting there. It just can’t be fixed. Why even bother trying?

But then Christmas comes and with it comes a message of hope. I’m sure you know that Christmas is not just about Santa and presents. But it’s not even just about Jesus being born. It’s about God’s Son being born. It’s about God taking on human form. Not so that He could have a short trip to Earth for a while to see what it was like. But because we were in a hopeless situation and we needed help. We were never going to get it right. We were never going to be good enough. So instead of giving up hope on the whole human race, God did something truly amazing. He sent his Son to give hope to the whole human race.

Recently, a boy was sent for psychological evaluation, after his teacher asked him to draw a picture of what Christmas meant for him and he drew a picture of Jesus on the cross. (I didn’t see this on the news, but I was arguing with my computer for a while. Why does the world get it so – oh, forget it.) At the risk of having my son sent in for psychological evaluation too, he made the same mistake. The other day he said, ‘Christmas is not about Santa. It’s about Jesus dying on the cross.’ My eldest son laughed in his ‘I’m an older brother and so much smarter’ laugh and said, ‘Christmas is not about Jesus dying on the cross. It’s about Jesus being born.’ But I told him that Christmas is about Jesus dying on the cross. It’s also about Jesus’ resurrection. Because the ending is what makes the beginning so special. At Christmastime, we must not only remember that Jesus was born, we must remember why He was born.

I have no idea how to fix the world’s problems. I have no idea how to put us on the right track again. I have no idea if we can be put on the right track. I don’t even know how to fix the problems in my own life. If I needed to work it all out, we may as well give us hope now. For I don’t know any solutions – beyond arguing with TVs and wagging my finger at the world.
There is one thing I do know though, one thing the Christmas story tells me, one thing the life of Jesus shows me and one thing Jesus’ death and resurrection makes real in my life – When things seem absolutely hopeless, God works in incredible and unimaginable ways to replace that hopelessness with hope.

Image details: Adoration by the shepherds, by Bronzino. From Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain.


  1. Hi Liz,

    It's amusing that you have this need to vent at Christmas time. It's certainly not unusual. A lot of us get on the anti-commercial bandwagon this time of year.

    I remember walking through the Melb suburb of Oakleigh one Christmas with Fr Hogan. It was during those last frantic hours of pre-Christmas shopping. We were walking across a park towards and open cemetery. (Fr Hogan loves his history of Catholic Australia, and going anywhere with him is quite educational. He'll find a tombstone of someone which will spark a memory, then more memories, and within a short time, he's given you a rundown of a religious order etc. Just near Oakleigh is a massive shopping centre, Chadstone. He told me it was originally a Catholic convent [of the Good Shepherd]).

    Anyway, while we were walking around 'rewriting history' I couldn't help notice how many people were arguing, and shouting at each other, almost to the point of fighting. And I made some comment like, "I thought the principal grace on offer at Christmas was supposed to be peace." Fr Hogan made some comment like, "And that's why the evil one tries harder during the festive season to disrupt peace."

    So, you're not alone if you have a bit of a vent during the holy season.

    I was interested in this bit you wrote:

    "Sometimes, though, I just get depressed. This is particularly the case when it comes to my own faults. It is hard to continually feel as though I am failing in what I want to do."

    That's another thing that's fairly common, and something I can identify with. We certainly need to do as much as possible to please God through our own industry (and we'll always fall short till the day we die), but there are certain times when we need to let go and allow God to work through us. And I think Christmas can teach us this lesson. If you have a think about the virgin birth, and God becoming man and being born, there was little even Mary could have done to effect this. All that God required of her was her consent, and He effected the rest.

    I think it was St John of the Cross who had a lot to say on the various stages of our prayer lives. It's a long time since I've read his 'Dark Night of the Soul' but he devotes a lot of time to the nature of passive prayer and makes a great analogy. He talks about how if a child (infant) is in a hurry to get somewhere and his mother wants to pick him up and carry him where he wants to go, he will get there very quickly. But he struggles, and refuses to be picked up. Because he wants to get there all by himself. (And so, St John of the Cross says we have to sometimes recognise when God is calling us to passive prayer, and how it might be time to put some of our active prayer [that of our own industry] aside and let God work within us. It's a matter of being very restful and silent. It appears like nothing is happening, because God is doing all the work, but there's a peace in this type of prayer that is totally opposite to the anxiety accompanying another attempt at failed active prayer ... etc.

    As you're well aware, I often bang on about how people should read the lives of the Saints. There's so much instruction in them. Some of those problems, anxieties and worries we have often disappear when we discover a saint after our own heart, who seems to be able to explain the difficulty we are experiencing so lucidly.

    Anyway, I hope you and your family have a peaceful, holy and safe Christmas.


  2. Hi David,

    If I could draw, I would do a cartoon, with someone standing in the middle of a shopping centre, their face turning red, steam coming out of their ears, screaming at everyone 'You're meant to love each other at Christmastime.'

    Fr Hogan's comments reminded me that there's a whole other dimension that we don't see. We only see the earthly dimension, and we forget that the spiritual dimension is also influencing what happens. And I think that also is relevant in relation to hope. Because if what we see is all there is, we probably should give up hope. But if we understand what was happening from a spiritual perspective, things may not seem that hopeless. For example, if things seem difficult, it might just be because something spiritual is happening in our lives and the devil is trying to stop it.

    The Pentecostals often talk about being under attack from the devil. And sometimes that's helpful. But sometimes I used to get annoyed at the fact that every time I was discouraged or struggling or depressed or facing problems, it was because the devil was attacking me. And so I kind of shy away, I suppose, from believing the devil has anything to do with what's happening in my life. Yet I do believe strongly in a very real spiritual dimension, that involves the devil just as much as it involves God and angels. So I guess I believe in the devil's interference. I just don't like to blame him for my problems and faults.

    But I think it’s very true that sometimes we just have to let God carry us. I think it’s very easy to get into the situation where we’re trying so hard. And I think sometimes it’s easier to see when other people are doing that than when we are doing it ourselves. I know there are many, many times in the past when I’ve tried and tried to do something and failed and felt guilty. And then when I eventually let go, it’s not actually that difficult.

    I’m glad you mentioned that about the passive prayer. Because when my children were going to reconciliation classes, I would take the opportunity to go to the church and pray. I love empty churches – much more than full ones. Which perhaps doesn’t say anything very complementary about my love of people, but anyway. So I deliberately wanted to make it a time when I was not focused on myself, but focused on God. I didn’t want to worry or complain or ask for things or think about my own problems. I didn’t want to think very much at all. Anyway, the first time, I think I spent about 20 minutes stressing and worrying and thinking about me and then the next 20 minutes beating myself up for not being able to keep my thoughts still, and then about five minutes actually doing the kind of prayer I wanted to do. But then the next time, it was perhaps six minutes and then seven. And when I eventually managed to get around to being silent, it was a really good prayer time.

    So I thought if I kept at it and just persevered, I may eventually be able to pray like that for 30 minutes. But it never happened. Because the children finished their classes and I stopped going to church by myself to pray. It’s something I need to make time for again, I think.

    Anyway, I hope you have a nice Christmas. May it be filled with joy, love, peace and hope.




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