No matter what challenges you face, Christmas offers powerful symbols of hope.
For Emily Dickinson, hope is the thing with feathers.
In my world, hope is the thing with tinsel.
Like most people, Christmas evokes all kinds of emotions for me. There is grief of loved ones lost during Christmases past and anxiety about how handle difficult relationships at family get-togethers. There is stress when I add yet another item to my ever-expanding holiday to-do list. And there is the sense of wonder when I drive through town and gaze up at all the lights and wreaths reminding me to hold on to the magical feeling I felt as a young girl on Christmas morning.
Most of all, though, Christmas inspires hope. The symbols and stories surrounding the birth of Jesus whisper into my ear, “Don’t give up. Keep going.” Here are just a few of the ways Christmas teaches me lessons of hope and fills me with optimism.
1) Follow the North Star
An epiphany refers to a sudden realization about the meaning of something. It usually feels inspired – from an intuitive place that is charged with wisdom. For Christians, the Epiphany is associated with the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus. They were guided by the Star of Bethlehem that heralded the newborn king of the Jews. The Epiphany teaches us to trust our North Star, the voice inside of us that is guided by the Spirit and will direct us to goodness and truth. The story of the Magi inspires hope that if we follow our epiphanies, we will, like the Wise Men, arrive at the place we were meant to be.
If you watch the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving morning, you’ll see the unmistakable backdrop with the word “Believe.” Christmas is about believing in things that defy logic: the Son of God being born to a virgin in a stable filled with farm animals. This holy season prompts us to become childlike in our faith: to think with our hearts rather than our brains, to embrace a world beyond our own, trusting that God is with us every day. Christmas inspires faith – in God and in His goodness, truth, and beauty that are very real but not always visible.
3) Say Yes
Perhaps the greatest story of courage ever told was Mary’s three-word response to the angel Gabriel when he explained to her that she would bear the Son of God. “Let it be,” she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” With great humility, she opens herself to God’s will and submits to His plan, even though she knows none of the details. By uttering her Fiat (Latin for “Let it be”) she initiates the Christmas story and the arrival of God into human history. Mary’s response also generates hope for all believers – that by saying yes to God we participate in the Christian story and find meaning that sustains us.
4) Talk to Your Angels
The angel Gabriel may not appear to us as vividly as he did to Mary, but we are all surrounded by angels that we can call on for guidance and assistance whenever we need it. Like an inspired GPS system, they help navigate the way, getting us from Point A to Point B, if we choose to access their help. Christmas reminds us of the active presence of angels in our lives. They sit at the top of decorated trees as beacons of hope sending the message that we are not alone.
5) Embrace Your Royalty
Purple or violet has traditionally been the color of Advent. It symbolizes an anticipation of the coming King, as well as royalty and nobility. The first candle of the Advent Wreath is the Candle of Hope, representing the arrival of something new and profound. Advent teaches us to anticipate the good things that we can’t see and to remember the presence of the royal King in our lives, who bestows upon us gifts beyond measure. As sons and daughters of the King, we are part of the royal family. We can embrace our nobility and wear purple year-round.
6) Consider the Evergreen
Evergreens decorate our homes and churches during Christmas, reminding us of the promise of everlasting life and our ability to weather hardship. The evergreen remains unchanged through the seasons, inspiring a message of hope to persevere through adversity. The Christmas tree is a symbol of Christ, the miracle of Christmas, and God’s gift of life. The green boughs on a Christmas wreath or a garland point us the perennially freshness of life -- that even when we feel as though our world is growing stale, there is always an element of newness and rebirth.
7) Persist in Darkness
Light shines brightest in darkness. That’s the heart of the Christmas story, an overriding message of hope that is articulated beautifully in the lyrics of “O Holy Night”: “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining, It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.” God didn’t come into our world at high noon. He entered our lives in darkness -- showing us the way to light, guiding us towards love, and demonstrating how to overcome shadows and blackness. Christmas teaches us that even when things seem dark, we can trust the everlasting light.