And so it is Christmas. And it is a Christmas so unlike any we have ever experienced before.
Always, despite whatever challenges, crises or sufferings have confronted us—individually, as families, or in the wider world—Christmas has been a time of joy and celebration, of togetherness, and most important, a time of hope.
Now, from our families, churches and communities, out across the length and breadth of our nation and beyond, encompassing the entire world, we are in the grip of a pandemic that stifles our joy, mutes our celebrations, and greatly limits our togetherness. Add to that the economic deprivation caused by our response to the pandemic; the anger and hatred that afflict virtually every part of our culture and seem to be tearing our nation apart; and worldwide issues that many see as existential, whether the effects of climate change, the growing menace of Communist China’s designs for world domination, or the continued mass destruction of new human lives by abortion—and there seems far more reason for fear and trepidation than for hope, for our world or humanity itself.
And indeed, if we are limited to our human capacities alone, there is little reason for hope.
Yes, human beings and human institutions can make our earthly lives better; they can also make them infinitely worse. Throughout history, the world has experienced political leaders and political systems who have advanced justice and freedom; others, however, have imposed terrible oppressions and injustice. Some economic systems have enhanced prosperity; others have only increased poverty and hunger. Science, in human hands, has been used to advance the human condition and alleviate suffering, but also misused to terrorize humanity and threaten world survival.
But Christmas reminds us that we need not rely solely on our fallible human inclinations and abilities.
Christmas reminds us of, indeed re-enacts for us, an all-loving God’s gift to us of His divine Son—who, having sinlessly taken all of our merited suffering upon Himself to atone for our sins, accompanies us with His love through every step of our earthly journey, leading us home to the eternal salvation He has won for us on the Cross.
That is the essence of the hope Jesus brings to us each Christmas—hope not in transient, earthly matters, but in our transcendent destiny. The hope He gives us, like His kingdom, is not of this world. He does not promise to make our earthly lives free of suffering and struggle. What He does promise is that He will be there with us, to lead us safely through those earthly trials, if we but seek His help.
Every Christmas, when I listen to the hymn “Away in a Manger,” I think of my Mom when I hear this line in the third verse: “Bless all the dear children in thy tender care.” I recall how her heart broke, and how she prayed, over the suffering of children, be it from poverty and hunger, abuse, disease, the fear and terror of warfare, or being violently dismembered and killed by abortion. And I am moved to offer my own prayer that God will indeed bless and protect all suffering children.
This year, however, I would suggest that we all take to heart the entire third verse of that beautiful hymn. For it speaks to our need—always, but especially in these difficult, turbulent times—to put our trust in Jesus, not in human endeavors; to avail ourselves of His unending love and mercy; and to have hope, not in earthly aspirations, but in the eternal joy of heaven that is our God-given destiny.
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.
Have a blessed and merry Christmas!