Embrace God’s message of hope and optimism this Christmas season


“And there were in the same country shepherds watching and keeping the night watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them and the brightness of the Lord shone around about them; and they feared with a great fear.

“And the angel said to them: Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people. For this day is born to you a savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.”

In case Luke isn’t clear enough here, Christmas is about hope. The good tidings proclaimed by the angel are that the savior has come to all the people. All of the people — not just believers or the holy — are given a chance to redeem their lives.

“A Christmas Carol” is the most popular story associated with Christmas in the English-speaking world because it is about the possibility of hope and optimism that is at once both religious and realistic. An old man buried in misery, loneliness and remorse learns it is never too late to change one’s own life and, in so doing, change the lives of those around us for the better. Despite the quicksand of our particular problems — and the paralysis caused by regret — we can choose a better path.

It is always tempting to get caught up in the chaff of preparing for Christmas. Is the house clean enough? Did I buy the right presents or spend the right amount of money?

That’s trivia.

The gifts and the parties are enthusiastic, if sometimes imperfectly understood, expressions of the optimism, hope and joy that we have because a child has been born unto us, and a son has been given to us. Those who have walked in darkness – and that is all of us – have seen a great light.

We have been given a great gift; what we have been freely given, we should be prepared to share. There are people all around us who are hungry for hope and optimism. Many of them are only dimly aware that we celebrate what they seek. That’s why getting agitated over “Season’s Greetings,” “holiday parties,” “winter events” or the sad “happy holidays” cards from businesses and other organizations is contrary to the entire point of the holy day.

The correct way to think about all of that nonsense is to ignore the institutional efforts to co-opt Christmas and take individual interactions as teachable moments. When someone wishes you happy holidays or some variation, remember that they are on the same journey to God as all of us. Welcome and encourage the small steps, and you might be rewarded with bigger ones.

Finally, take a moment to reflect on the unlikely nature of it all. We celebrate the birth of a boy born to obscure and poor parents in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire. His foster father was an itinerant carpenter. His mother wasn’t much more than a girl. He was born in a stable and placed in a manger. Thirty-three years on, he was executed for crimes against the regime after his friends had betrayed and abandoned him. His followers were a handful of mostly illiterate Jews who had never been more than 50 miles from where they were born.

Yet his message of hope and love and optimism has proved powerful beyond all measure. God loves us and wants us to be happy in this world and the next. That simple message and the simple messengers chosen to deliver it — shepherds, fishermen, all of us — has proven to be so persuasive that no one has been able to extinguish it (though many have tried).

Christianity and the world are always in tension. The world — especially the political world — celebrates cynicism, glorifies looking out for No. 1 and focuses on all the wrong things. It does its best to create hopelessness every day.

God’s message of hope and optimism, delivered and remembered most pointedly each Christmas, endures precisely because it is the antidote to the pathologies and problems we see around us and in us.

So, it is with great joy, hope and optimism that I wish you a very merry Christmas.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, co-hosts “The Unregulated Podcast.” He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.


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