Harsh reality can knock the shine right off the tinsel. There won't be enough money to buy everything we want to buy. $3/gallon gas will keep some from making a journey to be with family. Airport delays and cancellations will frustrate the travels of many, unmercifully stranding them with thousands of other disgruntled strangers in airports across our fair land. An unexpected death will cast an inescapable chill over an otherwise warm home. Notices of foreclosure or garnishment will reach mailboxes just in time to be placed under the Christmas tree with all the other gifts.
These are only the headlines on page 1 of the daily paper. Dig deeper and discover the student struggling through finals wondering if this single test grade is enough to salvage a semester or open the door to the next step. Find also the family entertaining the visitor from the Department of Human Relations questioning whether the kids should stay or go. There on page 3 is the man undergoing triple by-pass surgery the week before Christmas and the 97 year old lady who has outlived her family spending another lonely holiday with other forgotten people. I could go on but it seems this imagined paper is better suited for fire starting than enlightenment.
Most of us will pass through this season with a dim recognition that not all is well. Most will seek to push back the ugliness with a few extra ornaments. Others will seek to stifle the stench with another sprig of evergreen. Still others will drown the sorrow in glass after glass of Christmas cheer, only to discover that it is anything but cheer-filled. The pursuit of the perfect gift will preoccupy the thoughts of some, allowing them to ignore the dull ache behind the heart. However, there will be moments of quiet when the anything-but-lovely pokes its head through our consciousness to disturb us yet again.
And hope comes softly. As unmistakable and unobtrusively as Christmas lights shining from a front porch on a dark night, it comes. Made welcome by its absence, hope comes breathing life into our lifelessness, light into our darkness. It doesn't erase our burdens, it merely makes them bearable as we remember we are not abandoned to the darkness nor enslaved to despair. "In Him was life and that life was the light of men" (John 1:4). It comes softly, almost imperceptibly. Nevertheless it comes. Will we recognize it when it comes or will we rush by it in our pursuit of peace and joy?
Hope comes softly. A child. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory... full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
(For further Advent reading start here.)