Christmas Day is right around the corner. For many of us, it’ll be quieter and smaller than normal, but the beauty of the Church’s feasts is that they’re fundamentally the same in gatherings of one or one hundred and in America, China, or anywhere you may find yourself.
The last several weeks have seen us waiting and preparing for Christmas. Practically, we clean, bake, decorate, and carefully observe countless traditions handed on to us. Liturgically, we anticipate Jesus’ coming among us, we remember our mistakes and failures, and do our best to prepare our souls to receive him.
For most of us, if this year is anything like years’ previous, we can expect that Christmas will arrive, we’ll eat too much, we’ll give presents we may or may not have budgeted for, and that will be that.
Weeks of planning, effort, and waiting will be over in a few hours and life will go back to normal.
But should it?
We are in the last moments of this season of hope. Hope is that virtue that confidently looks forward to the fulfillment of one of God’s promises. Like any virtue, however, hope may become corrupted.
The Devil loves to twist good things into sources of pain. He particularly enjoys it when he can do that with a virtue.
Without care, hope can be twisted into little more than continually looking forward to something and never receiving anything. We look forward to Christmas. Immediately afterward, we look forward to New Years’. After that, we look forward to… 40 days of fasting in Lent?
Probably not for most of us!
We look forward to our next vacation, our next raise, our next weekend with friends—most of us would be thrilled if we could leave the house for something other than groceries—and shortly after the thing we longed for arrives we start to grieve its passing and look for its replacement.
When I was young I’d count the days of a holiday or vacation and progressively grow more disappointed. The half-way mark would arrive and pass. Then the afternoon with only two days left, which meant all I had left was an ordinary weekend. By the end, I’d give up hope on time stopping and accept the cruel truth that I’d have to go back to school—or work, I still do this!—I would put away the expectations that this period of time would make me happy and would look for the next thing that I could put my hope in.
Does that sound like a relaxing and enjoyable holiday or vacation? No, it’s exhausting and discouraging. The thing I looked forward to turned out to take the life out of me.
That’s corrupted hope.
Virtuous hope, that hope which brings us closer to Jesus, has two major hallmarks.
First, virtuous hope must be placed in something God has actually promised. Hoping that our sports team wins or that we pass a test or successfully complete a project is great. However, God never promised us any of these things. Those are examples of hoping for something that we want for ourselves or for others. They are good to hope for, but they aren’t examples of virtue.
How about hoping that even if my team gets smoked or my project is a disaster, I will still be a worthwhile person who is loved by God and created in his image?
That’s hope rooted in one of God’s promises and that cannot fail to bring us closer to him. That’s virtuous hope.
Second, virtuous hope requires receiving what we hoped for. The Devil is endlessly amused when we are so infatuated with the future that we miss the current moment. He’s even more entertained when our longed-for event arrives and we don’t even enjoy it!
Christmas is an amazing example. We’ve spent weeks planning. Are we really going to let it flash past without really receiving it?
Did you know that Christmas isn’t just December 25? Christmas includes a feast of the Holy Family (Dec 27, 2020) showcasing an incredible moment in the lives of Mary and Joseph after Jesus’ birth. Christmas includes the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (Jan 1, 2021) where we celebrate that a humble teenager became the mother of her own creator! Neat, right? Christmas includes the Epiphany (Jan 3, 2021) commemorating the three wise men visiting Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, revealing his divinity, and offering him pretty neat gifts. Christmas includes Jesus’ Baptism (Jan 10, 2021), which marks the end of Jesus’ life at home with Mom and Dad and the beginning of his true mission to save the world!
Christmas isn’t a couple of hours eating and opening presents. Liturgically, it represents much more than just Jesus’ birth. We celebrate Jesus’ first 30 years of life! Practically, it’s an entire season (17 days this year) and, frankly, it takes that long to celebrate it!
This year, I encourage you to take the effort, planning and hope you’ve poured out through the last few weeks and really receive the fruit of your efforts. Leave that tree up a bit longer. Let the decorations remind you that we can keep enjoying Christmas even into the new year! God wants to pour out his grace into your heart, this year, consider giving him ample time to do so!