“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Ebenezer Scrooge (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)
I suspect what makes Scrooge such an enduring character is that (if we’re honest) there is a little humbug in most of us. Let’s face it Christmas Cheer is not always that cheerful. The truth is Christmas exists between the tensions of great joy and profound angst.
It’s interesting to note that the first official response to the announcement of Jesus’ birth was fear. The Angel began his message to the Shepherds in the field with, “Be not afriad; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
I don’t think much has changed in two millennia. For some it’s hearing their first “Yuletide” carol of the season, for others it’s the sighing of a holiday display at a shopping mall sometime near Columbus Day, or just the weight of having to consider advancing Christmastime obligations. The first thought of Christmas can be rough.
Many people wrongly equate happiness with an event partly because that has the word’s original implication. The word happy comes from the old English word “hap” meaning luck, or good fortune. The idea was that a happy person demonstrated the joy of someone who experienced good luck. It stands to reason that people who go through life waiting for a fortuitous moment to bring contentment will be very unhappy most of the time.
That’s why we must constantly remind ourselves that the true meaning of Christmas is the good news of “a great joy.” The Angel told Joseph that Mary would “bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” The great joy is the promise of salvatioin. The heart of joy is hope not just a good time.
I believe Christmas is a wonder from God given to the world so every year the nations will hear the proclamation, “born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” I believe it’s also a gift to his people that no matter what we are going through we can pause and be reminded (and encouraged) that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord!
Scrooge’s great revelation was that the joy of Christmas was something that had to be embraced—something that had to be honored—because it represents far more than a dreaded holiday season.