HOPE: desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment
(courtesy of Merriam-Webster online)
I love this time of year. Not only is it a time centered on love, compassion, and family, but it's a time in which so many people are filled with hope. The business of preparing for Christmas - the stress of planning and preparing dinners or shopping for a long list of presents - is over, and for the most part, people are happy. One might run into a case here and there of "buyer's remorse," but even that seems tempered by the excitement of giving or receiving (talking about gifts, hospitality, and service here, not just consumerism). School is typically still "out" and families tend to either hunker down at home and focus on relaxing, or take that trip they've been talking about for months. Just now, sitting at my front window, typing this post, I see two dads teaching children how to ride their bike (presumably received on Christmas morning). Just yesterday, my husband took my 5 year old on his first ever bike ride where he got to ride a bike and NOT in a bike trailer, strapped in. The smile on his face (and on these other two children's faces as I watch them today) could be seen from down the street - he was truly joyful.
It's a fun time of year, and being Catholic, it's even more fun. Our days are centered around celebrating. What are we celebrating? We're focusing on and rejoicing in the fact that about 2,000 years ago, our God came into this world as a baby boy. This baby boy would grow up to die on a cross, just over 30 years later, and in effect, save us. It's a pretty good reason for celebrating. ;-)
I don't think it's any coincidence that this time of year also provides a very curious phenomenon: a return to hope. Have you ever noticed that the week between Christmas and New Year's is full of people talking about "resolutions" or ways that they will improve themselves or their surroundings during the upcoming year? The stores definitely have. Just today, I've received 3 emails from various businesses, focusing on things like improving one's health (and purchasing the appropriate exercise equipment, at a fraction of the regular cost) or sorting out finances. It seems that everyone, everywhere, is focused on a better future for themselves and their families.
Recently, on a mom's board that I'm a member of, the topic of New Year's resolutions came up. Members were encouraged to share what they planned on making this year's resolution. Everyone was so full of hope and excitement, focusing on how next year was going to be better. Next year was going to be the year that they lost the weight, or cleaned the attic, stuck to homeschooling plans, or took better care of themselves. The hope - most specifically, the belief that their goal could be achieved - was palpable.
Like I said earlier, I don't think these two events - the birth of Christ and the "Hope Phenomenon" are unrelated. One leads to the other, whether or not you explicitly believe in the divinity of Christ. I would argue that - even if you choose to not believe in Christianity, in any of its many forms - you are aware of the reasons for celebrating Christmas. After all, it is considered a national holiday. Schools are closed, there's no mail delivery, banks are closed - if you've grown up in the United States, you've been made aware of Christmas, and most likely, the story of the Nativity (considering you can't go into ANY store during December and not see a Nativity set or picture for sale).
I believe in the power of suggestion. (What parent doesn't, really?!?!). All it takes is a well-placed comment or action from me, and my kids understand what is expected of them, or - even better - change their actions or words to reflect that suggestion from me. Believe me, we're in the process of potty-training Baby #3 right now....suggestions are powerful things.
If you've lived in the States for any amount of time, you've heard the Nativity story. You know - whether or not you believe it yourself - that the majority of our country's population believes that a baby boy was born for the sole purpose of saving us. You've heard that yes, even though we are sinners, we are so very loved that God Himself became a man and died for our salvation. That's a whole lot of love.......and when you are loved, you want to give love in return.
But how do we give love to One who is perfect? How do we show our gratitude and appreciation for the Incarnation?
As Matthew Kelly puts it - we become better versions of ourselves. We strive to become the best version of ourselves that is possible.
We not only have a goal in mind (to be the best version of ourselves), but we have the affirmation of love from a God who was born to save us - the very reason that we are celebrating Christmas. We are so incredibly loved by the very baby whose birth we are celebrating every December.
Whether you agree with Jesus' divinity or not...the power of suggestion (placed by the fact that the majority of the population does profess and celebrate this divinity) is a strong one. Everywhere around us, people are striving to make themselves their best version....all in a response to an incredible act of Love.
We find ourselves immersed in Hope.