The Nativity of the Lord
Comfort ye, my people: Handel’s lyric has none of the jolliness of Jingle Bells or the triumphal air of Adeste Fideles. But this plaintive cry from The Messiah strikes just the right note for this Christmas… a Christmas preceded by a season terror… set in an age of uncertainty. But how will we be comforted? Exactly, what do we want from God this Christmas?
As we have learned over and over, what we want for Christmas is often very different from what we get. It has 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 would grown-up to tell them to love their enemies. For some, that surprise was a big disappointment. But for hundreds of millions down the centuries, it has meant hope… the greatest Christmas gift of all.
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.
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. Chesterton wrote that: “Hope is as unreasonable as it is indispensable.” Without hope we would be crushed by the disappointment and despair life serves up at every turn. In a troubled marriage, in addiction, in sin, in suffering… hope is our refuge. It is the wellspring of our courage. It lifts us up. It banishes fear. Hope is our Comfort of last resort.
That’s because hope in Christ has such a solid foundation. It is our confident expectation of God’s love and the blessings that flow from it. Where do we find that hope? We don’t. It finds us. It is one of God’s gifts of grace. But unlike so many other Christmas gifts, this hope comes with batteries… the power of God’s grace… fresh and alive in the new-born Jesus. All we have to do is ask for it, accept it, embrace it… then share it… and thank God for it.
Hope is not one of those gifts we can 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 rigid requirements, the other option is pretty dismal.
As Gilbert Brenken observed: “Other men see only a hopeless end, but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope.” Hope reminds us, that as successive Christmases race by, we are hurrying home… to our ultimate, eternal home… the home where we belong. That’s where we’ll finally find the Comfort we cry for… in the serene 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 live in “Esperanza.” Let’s open up the gift of hope. With God’s other graces, it already lives 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 in you 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.
I thank God that for our friends of the Café who prove over and over to be such powerhouses of hope. I thank you for sharing your hope so generously and so constantly. I pray you have a blessed, hope-filled Christmas and a joyful year closer to Christ. Comfort ye, my people!
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.