News outlets are posting stories about families in Newtown, Conn., packing up their Christmas decorations. The symbols of Christmas cheer are too much to take, in light of the loss of so many sons, daughters, friends, neighbors, fathers and mothers.
We might think quietly to ourselves, “Who can blame them?” It is certainly understandable that they have lost their joy in celebrating Christmas. Each light, ornament and strand of tinsel, each tree, wreath and snowman has become a reminder of those who lost their lives and will not be at the Christmas table. Reminders of “holiday cheer” are too much for grieving hearts.
The characters in Christmas movies always remind us of what is important in celebrating Christmas. From Scrooge and George Bailey to the Grinch and all the others who have followed, we know in the end they will discover the Christmas spirit.
They will learn that acquiring wealth is less important than all they gave up in their pursuit of riches. They will sob and remind us that “No one is poor who has friends.” Through all the obstacles, it is good to be home for the holidays.
The people of Newtown had chosen family and community over the glitz and glamour of New York City. They turned away from the grittiness and violence of the big city for the tranquility of small-town life. Maybe that is why the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary affect us so. They understood Christmas, but it was ripped away from them.
We have young children and value family and community; the same kind of violence could visit us. Where is the hope and holiday cheer?
Churches decorate their sanctuaries and halls. We go out into the streets and sing Christmas carols. We value family and community. We have not lost hope and still celebrate Christmas. Our hope runs deeper than the decorations.
Christians claim a new family and community, because of a baby born in a manger years ago in Bethlehem. We find a joy that wipes away tears in a God who could not merely sit up in heaven, but came down into our world so we would know a love that overcomes every tragedy.
A Boston pastor, Phillips Brooks, wrote these words in a Christmas poem in 1868: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
We still sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” We still understand Christmas as God coming into the world to be with us in the midst of our hopes and our fears.
Our hope of Christmas is not that Jesus came into the world a long time ago and in a faraway land. Our Christmas hope is that the work of Christmas is not complete. Even though there is violence in our world, God’s kingdom of peace will come. Acts of violence, hatred and mental illness will not have the final word.
Even when darkness descends on us, our community or our nation, the light of Christmas still shines. Jesus weeps with us and remains the hope that is Christmas.
n The Rev. Kevin Campbell is pastor of Federated Methodist-Presbyterian Church. Sermon Notes is a column by local religious leaders.