Little could Edward Pola and George Wyle have known when they wrote these lyrics from It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for singer Andy Williams in 1963 that they would become not only a holiday standard, but perhaps THE idealized standard bearer for the Christmas season. The song presents a litany of traditional Christmas and holiday activities focusing on family and friend get-togethers. Hosting parties, marshmallows toasting, caroling in the snow, bells jingling, happy greetings, friends coming to call and all the wonderful images of a Hallmark Christmas ad neatly captured in one song.
But is Christmas really the happiest season of all or the most wonderful time of the year? Today, just nine days before Christmas I know for certain it’s not the happiest season of all – at least not for many people. At this very moment among my dear friends an adult mother holds vigil at the hospital bed of her aging and frail mother watching her progress ebb and flow. As she and her siblings struggle to make the best decisions, I doubt she would consider this the happiest season of all.
A young mother battles yet another round of cancer that has recurred in her well-lived life. Having walked this road before, she and her family are all too familiar with the devastation that lies ahead and the uncertainty of this path. No happy season for them.
Another family struggles with finding balance and peace in their relationship. One step toward resolution and perhaps two steps backward.
A lovely woman recently and unexpectedly widowed is now left alone as primary care taker for her chronically ill adult son.
A young family grieves the overwhelming loss of a small child. And for another family they face the anniversary of the loss of a beloved husband and father, while still another prepares for their first Christmas without the patriarch of the their family.
All these are local families, friends that I love dearly. At the regional level families have been devastated with personal loss, injury and death as the result of the very recent Smoky Mountain fires. Fourteen lives gone entirely too soon. No happy season here. Only cold stark reality of pain and loss.
At least outwardly that is what it would appear.
If joy and happiness are based upon the Christmas image portrayed in this song , then the reason this is the most wonderful time of year rests in the parties, social activities, friends and family events, snow accumulation, hot chocolate and festive decorations. And if your life circumstances don’t align with those expectations, well – you’re out of luck. No happy season for you. Perhaps that’s exactly WHY this isn’t a happy season for so many folks. Their lives may not be facing the enormity of some of my friends but everyone, everywhere is facing some sort of daily battle. And at times that battle seems to be defeating us.
But notice I said, “IF joy and happiness are based upon that Christmas image . . .” Granted the world has done a terrific job of promoting this image. And most of us buy into it to a bit. After all, we DO decorate to some extent (some a lot more than others), we do participate in parties and social events – even if we complain about having to go. We do love the “idea” of a white Christmas with just enough snow for beauty and maybe some sledding but certainly nothing that would delay traffic! And we do carefully plan our calendars to coordinate all the events, activities and gift buying so that no one is left out.
Is this the source of Christmas joy? The events, the activities. Even the Hallmark Christmas movies that I must confess I love, center each drama around an extraordinarily predictable plot that always involves a “Christmas miracle.” Lots of people are waiting on a Christmas miracle, but it’s not one that Hallmark can provide.The Christmas miracle they need was manifested more than 2000 years ago and it came in the form of a tiny baby, born to an unlikely young couple, in the most unlikely place – a stable, a barn – a shelter for livestock.
God came to earth in the flesh. Not necessarily to bring us ‘happiness’ but he is the source of our joy. And our joy is based on one simple but beautiful truth. This tiny baby, this bundle of divinity wrapped in human flesh brought us the most important Christmas miracle of all – HOPE. Christ entered the world in a dark time; political tensions were high, the masses felt disenfranchised, oppressed and the long promised Messiah almost seemed a distant memory for God has been silent with his chosen people for more than 400 years. Where was the hope? The hope of a conquering King, a Redeemer, the one who was to “proclaim freedom to the captives?”
And then the REAL Christmas miracle happened. God showed up in the most unlikely of places and forms in order to show HIS love for us and to give us HOPE. Because it is hope that sustains us even in the darkest of hours. Hope for a cure, hope for restoration of families, hope for peace and reconciliation in conflict, hope that when our loved one is gone – that in the future we shall be reunited. That is the basis for our joy. Happiness is temporary and based upon circumstances, but joy is a state of heart. Christ fills us with joy because in Him we have this everlasting hope.
Perhaps this Christmas isn’t your hap-happiest season of all. But take comfort, you have hope. Wherever you are, whatever your situation, Christ is there to give you HOPE through his everlasting life. Remember, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, Christ comes to give us life and give it abundantly.” (And eternally.) John 10:10
So, enjoy your decorations, participate in events of your choosing, celebrate with family and friends but do not look to these for your happiness. Our joy, our hope is in the tiny baby born in the most humble conditions imaginable. The WORD became Flesh to bring us life and light. May your Christmas season be filled with Light, Life, and HOPE.