- - Wednesday, December 22, 2021

“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 round 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.”

“And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest; and on Earth peace towards men of goodwill.’”

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 people. All 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 because it is about the possibility of hope and optimism that is both religious and realistic. Ebenezer Scrooge, an old man, deeply set in his ways, learns it is never too late to change our lives and the lives of those around us, that despite the quicksand of our particular problems, we can choose a better path.

We give gifts to express our joy that salvation is at hand, emulate the gift that is the Child and commemorate the gifts of the wise men. Most importantly, we give gifts to let others know they are important to us.

We don’t give gifts or plan get-togethers to make Advent more stressful or make Amazon more profitable. 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 trivial.

The gifts and the parties are enthusiastic, if sometimes imperfectly understood, expressions of the joy and hope that we have because a Child has been born unto us. A Son has been given to us, and the government shall be upon his shoulder.

We have been given a great gift, and each Christmas, we are reminded of that gift. We should not hoard it; we should be prepared to share what we have been freely given. 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 concerned over “Season’s Greetings,” “holiday parties,” “winter events” or the tragically sad “happy holiday” cards from businesses and other organizations (just got one from that notoriously Christian outfit, the University of Pennsylvania) is pointless.

The correct way to think about all of that nonsense is to ignore the institutional affronts (it’s likely that Christianity is more important and will outlast Penn) and think of the individual expressions 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 and reflect on the unlikely nature of it all. We celebrate the birth of a boy born to obscure 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 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 yet been able to extinguish it.

Christianity and the world are always in tension. The secular world — especially the political world — wants you to be cynical, wants you to focus on all the wrong things, and tries 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 each of you a very merry Christmas.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. 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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