“People cannot live without hope. Everyone hopes for something; most people hope for things they can see, or, at least, have seen.” T. M. Moore writes. “ - a good marriage, a better job, more material possessions, a successful retirement, and so forth.”
I hope for a job, but not just any job. I want to provide for my family, but not just the material things. I can remember back when my children would ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhhh’ over the catalogs of toys that leaped out to them from the glossy pages. Christmas was filled with the joyful sounds of carols and music as people greeted each other with “Merry Christmas” amid rushing to Christmas pageants and plays…..and the “I need this” or “I want that” from the buried heads of my young ones. They couldn’t understand why, when they asked Dad what he wanted that ‘anything you make’ was more desirable than the latest “G.I. Joe” or “horsey.” What they ‘hoped’ for under the tree on Christmas morning would be a mixture of what they needed (clothes, etc.) and what they wanted (toys, electronic gadgets). I was the same way as a child, wanting the latest gadget or game to satisfy me.
This year, they have grown up a lot and understand that such gifting isn’t a necessary thing to celebrate the season, or the Christian reason behind the celebration. Oh, they have thrown out their ‘wants;’ a laptop, an IPOD touch and an Xbox….along with some ‘practical’ things like winter pjs and clothes. But they understand that there are more beneficial and worthy wants; a home, food, clothing and each other.
As I sat here, thinking about the needs of some friends that I’ve stepped forward to meet, the things I’ve done in the quiet of my community that hasn’t met the eyes of others (and never will), and the needs of a few organizations like www.homefronthugs.com and www.avets.org that are hoping for some donations to send our deployed troops some home loving during this holiday season they are once again (in most cases) away from home, I was hit by the realization of what we should really be intensely wanting and hoping for this Christmas celebration……and how often, in the discussions of the Church during this time, such is ignored.
Oh, we speak about the Christmas story in our pews and defend the use of “Merry Christmas” in advertisements and greetings. We put on elaborate plays or simple skits to bring in the visual learners in the crowds. Most church attendance swells during this time, or at least on the day of, as a country and a world come together to recognize the universal time of giving. Some of us have the additional ‘joy’ or ‘burden’ (depending on how you view it) of having a winter ‘wonderland’ of snow to help us in the memory department……though I don’t think Jesus and His family had to contend with snow in Bethlehem (so I don’t know why I have to…..). We have office parties with ‘secret Santas’ and family gatherings for gift giving with bountiful meals. We are lighter in the pocketbook during this time; not only for the family but reaching out to those who are struggling through this time. We smile as we ask our family, friends and co-workers what they ‘want’ for Christmas and calculate it in our head as to where and how much such a gift is…..balanced against the joy and pleasure of the smile that comes from obtainment….
I wonder what the ‘wants’ were in the beginning…..as shepherds lay watching their sheep and a world slept in a midnight clear. As the King was born in simple fare, being born into this world to the bleating of sheep and the chomp of the camels, I wonder what the dreams that danced ‘like sugar plums’ in the heads of the young ones and the practical wants of their parents. Was the wants of the Magi who travelled to ‘yon distant star’ more practical as well, seeking why a star rose in that spot or less ‘worldly’ in its scope? Israel was under the bondage of Rome, its national life dictated by the demands of a distant government with iron fists.
There were those, for sure, to prayed each night that the promised Messiah would come blazing across the early morning sky with a legion or two of Angelic host to bring the mighty Roman Empire to its knees like was done in the olden days to Egypt. The want for a release and dismantling of the yoke of slavery and oppression that dominated their lives even as they celebrated the Passover and other Jewish remembrances, surely these things were never far from the minds of those who thought them…..and not just for a certain season or day.
They wanted what something that they could handle, touch or use to wipe out the things that they had to deal with in this world. A Messiah to lead them to defeat their overseers, as we hope for the fulfillment of wants for a good marriage, job, home and other such things. We want what we can handle, to acknowledge that we are loved, cherished or at least ‘tolerated.’
In today’s economy, I know there are those who want to break the yoke of unemployment and the unwelcomed reliance upon the ‘handouts’ of the government even as there are those who want to rest of the laurels of others. There are those who resent those on unemployment insurance payments, some that are entering their second year. As Christians, we hope for that which we cannot see with our eyes or grasp with our hands. We hope in an eternal perspective for that which has been promised; a glory that defies even our more elaborate and glorious dreams of what we want on this earth. In this world, our wants are piety, self-serving and damaging layers of protection that serves as a salve between the pain of living with other human beings. The Israelites felt it back then, Christ paid the ultimate price for it, and we have learned nothing in the practice of celebrating the birth of our King in the years since.
What we should want every year under the tree that most of us put up in the living rooms, basements or lounges of our palatial homes (in the standards of the rest of the world) is nothing more than the simple picture of the glory that await us when the birthday boy returns…..a gift that far outweighs anything in this world and one that we, the celebrants of the birthday boy’s birth, could ill-afford to pay. But we are guided by lesser hopes, which are the wants of this world, and by the deception of the needs that aren’t really needs when they cannot be filled. We seek satisfaction in lesser things that cannot satisfy, demanding obedience and ‘improvement’ from those who we perceive are less engaged in the culture war of want and need.
That is what I want this Christmas; not presents for the kids, nor for myself. I have been blessed with more than I ever deserve by those who now seem to believe that their gifts were wasted on me. I don’t need the approval of those friends, though understanding would be a garnish on the tree that would shine in the dark. I don’t desire sympathy or pity from them either, for such offerings are merely a covering of their own insecurity over what they are judging me about. I want the hope secured that comes from the moment in time that began on a midnight clear in the little town of Bethlehem in a manger filled with swaddling clothes and the baby that lay within. That hope that was secured in the moment thirty-three years later upon a cross of wooden pain and torment. A hope that lies in my heart regardless of what my friends claim to know is right and what I believe is true. A hope that will be born out in my life for His glory, regardless of the circumstances.
Do you have this hope?