Earlier this month, as I was driving on the Merritt Parkway, I was comforted to see the large number of cars which had Christmas trees tied to their roof. It was comforting because it brought back many memories of when I was a little boy and the joy I felt when our family Christmas tree went up.
While there is a varied history to the Christmas tree, the fact that it is almost always an evergreen tree teaches a simple lesson. All evergreens remain “green” even in the midst of the darkness and cold of winter. For this reason, the Christmas tree is a sign of hope that life will conquer every obstacle, even the periods of darkness and uncertainty in our lives.
My friends, it has been a very difficult year for our world. We have experienced storms and shootings, terrorist attacks and growing uncertainty, and some may even have experienced a growing loss of faith in the goodness of the people around them. In our divided world, many have become weary- weary of talking to each other, weary of the news, weary of our institutions.
Though our problems are perhaps different than what people faced in the first century, the world is not much different than it was 2,000 years ago. For this reason, Christmas invites us to take a second look at our lives and dare to work for a better world.
On Christmas, we celebrate the greatest love story of all time. We celebrate the fact that God was willing to shed His glory and enter into human life, with all of its tears, suffering, betrayal, and even death. This remarkable testimony of God’s love gives us joy in the face of so much darkness. On Christmas, we celebrate the gift of “Emmanuel”, God with us. It is this divine gift that gives us hope and inspires us to love our neighbor each day of our lives.
But how can we have hope in today’s world, where so many people are suffering? How do we have joy in a world where people are struggling to understand the truth that they are loveable and loved? We can have hope and joy, provided that we are willing to walk in the footsteps of the child born in Bethlehem.
For we must first understand that there is an essential difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is the feeling we have when everything is going well in our lives. We are happy when we face no problems and our challenges are few. Though God wants us to be happy, we know that there will be times in our lives when happiness is a distant reality. In those times, God gives us the gift of joy- a divine gift that assures us that despite our challenges and sufferings, we know in our hearts that God will take care of us and that all things shall be well in Him. Joy allows us always to live in the belief that Jesus will never abandon us, even if the world does.
But that is not all. Joy also invites us to persevere in doing what is right, even though we may be exhausted by the world. Joy gives us the strength to go out and change the world according to the mind of Christ. Joy helps us take the love that we experience this Christmastime and share it with our neighbors. Joy allows us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and to visit the sick.
In today’s world, Christmas reminds us that nobody can ever take this divine joy from us. On this day, when we celebrate anew our hope who is Jesus, born into the poverty of the manger, in the darkness of night, to free us from all that can harm us, our weary hearts are renewed.
Joy also invites us to bring light where there is darkness. It is the promise of light that we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters who recently celebrated Hanukah, and with people of all faiths and those of good will throughout the world.
In our brief and fragile life, we stand in the light together: it is the cause of our joy and the path we must walk together. Though our hearts may be weary, let us always choose joy.
As we celebrate this great festival of love and light, I would like to wish you and your families and all people a Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy New Year.