It’s the hope that kills you. Cliché right? No, I am not an English football fan, unless you count the Richmond Greyhounds, the team coached by Ted Lasso (Probably my favorite show right now and my favorite episode might be the Christmas episode that I watched this past August and yes it did get me into the Christmas spirit three months early), but I do agree with the sentiment. Hope can kill, especially if you place that hope in the wrong things. That is why I am learning to become okay with disappointments during the holidays because my hope is not in a perfect tree.
No, I am not giving up all hope and becoming a Scrooge for the season. On a side note, how come being a scrooge is a bad thing, since Ebanizer Scrooge turns his life around and becomes a man we should all model our lives after. A Christmas Carol, if I can continue this little aside, makes it clear that Christmas is not about what we buy, but about how we love our fellow man. At the end of the classic novel, Scrooge has a change of heart and realizes he must love those around him which leads him to buying the prized turkey (is it a goose? I think so.) for the Cratchet family. Christ calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But even the message behind A Christmas Carol might leave us disappointed and feeling hopeless. When we love and expect love in return only to be shunned, that is disappointing, but true hope can still remain.
Hope can bring us joy when we let go of our expectations, live in the moment, and let Christ into our season. Expectations are key to the Christmas season. When we place our expectations in the wrong things we can easily become disappointed. From Thanksgiving to Christmas I have expectations of a magical season. I want to experience joy. I want to eat quite a bit and not gain weight. I want to feel that sense of wonder only an early morning sitting in quiet near the Christmas tree can bring. But this year we had to buy a second Christmas tree because Phoenix, our cuddle king of a pup, chewed up our first one. Maybe this is why Scrooge, at the start of the story, is so jaded toward Christmas, someone chewed up his expectations of beauty at Christmas, so his flame of hope died out and all wonder left with it.
Even expecting wonder can bring on disappointment. Just go and watch National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, its streaming on HBO Max if you don’t have the blu-ray like I do. Clark Griswald expects to provide wonder for his entire family. He has always dreamed of having the house with the most lights and when the lights just won’t work he is so disappointed he punches his fake Santa Claus. The entire movie is packed full of hilarious examples of how Christmas expectations can be turned into disappointments. But it is okay to experience disappointments at Christmas, because if our true hope is in Christ we can know that the dark days will be redeemed. His love is coming to rescue us all, even the Clark Griswalds of the world.
I can relate to Clark Griswald and Scrooge because I have felt disappointed during the Christmas season. I remember wanting a race track for Christmas, only for it to come without the full track. We went back to the store after the Christmas season was over only to be told they didn’t have the replacement part. I never got to play with that toy. Even this holiday season has already had its diapointments. I wasn’t able to sleep the night before Thanksgiving because I had an anxiety attack and so I spent the entire day tired, anxious, and disappointed. I know other disappointments will come this season. Maybe I’ll get sick and have to Zoom in with my family for Christmas morning (I’ve had to do this before when I lived in Guatemala and it was not quite the same). No, I don’t want gifts that are broken and no I don’t really want to be separated from my family, but being okay with disappointments is more about where I am placing my expectations.
Through the holidays, especially leading up to Christmas, advent is practiced throughout Christianity. Advent means to wait, to hope. Typically in the church this is observed by lighting four different candles, the first one being the representation of hope and the last one being the Christ candle. If we light our hope candle and place it in any other hands than the hands of Christ, our expectations are not going to be be met and our hope will leave us disappointed.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the beautiful poem Christmas Bells (click the link for the full poem) about disappointment at Christmas. Here are the last two stanzas. Notice how God brings beauty to Wadsworth Longfellow in the midst of his despair. It is beauty that can bring us back to the hope that Christ has for us.
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
So in Advent we wait with a hope that leads to Christ. His love for me is what allows me to feel disappointment at Christmas because I know he is coming back to redeem the wrongs and bring true peace to our world. Through the season I know I will have days that are so lacking in wonder that it hardly feels like Christmas at all, but in the end even if Christmas Day doesn’t go as planned I can remember that I am loved. That Christ came as a baby, lived in our wonderful and disappointing world, and still chose to sacrifice himself for me. That is where the magic of this season resides.
So this holiday season I am going to be okay if I am disappointed because my hope is in Christ and that is a hope that will never kill me.