Christmas is all about hope. Even in the cheesy Christmas movies that do not acknowledge Christ at all, the emphasis is on belief and hope either in humanity or in Santa.
This past weekend we watched a Christmas musical called “The Gift of Christmas” put on by a local, Christian group. They wrote the play and music themselves and the story centers on two different female characters who have both experienced hardship. The first is a mother of two teenagers who has lost her job. This exacerbates an already difficult holiday season because it is the first Christmas without her mother, the Queen of Christmas.
The second female lead is a homeless woman who tells her story of being raised in a Christian home with such high hopes of what her future would hold. Instead, she is orphaned then later, when she has her own family with a husband and child, loses them also. She is angry and has lost her hope. Though much of the play includes the familiar Christian and Christmas lingo and expected happy ending, it’s not as neatly wrapped up as a Hallmark movie would be.
The play ends with both women finding community and support with each other and with an unexpected gift from the main character’s deceased mother. However, it is notable that neither of the two main issues is really resolved—she still has no job and a Christmas season of grieving and the homeless character (while now in possession of a check of an untold amount) is still carrying the burden of loss and is still homeless. It is obvious that the biggest grievances of life cannot be resolved in an hour-long production. The losses we have endured do not heal overnight.
The process of grieving has us asking many questions. The most obvious is why. When we are torn in two, we want to ask: Why did this happen? Sometimes that means we are looking for someone to blame, but often we are just hoping for a redemptive element to our own story. We desperately seek a silver lining in the hopes that the pain isn’t for nothing. But, whether we have answers or not, the next question is inevitably how. How do I face each day? How do I move forward when I hurt this much?
At this time of year, I am reminded of Mary’s questions which were amazingly answered. She isn’t in a time of grieving, but she has been surprised by news that’s hard to process. She asks how and finds out how she will get pregnant and the significance of who this baby will be, but not how she is meant to deal with the consequences of this pregnancy. It is enough for her though that this is God working in her life, and she is thrilled to be a part of the larger story of God’s work on earth.
Henry Nouwen notes that “Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary were not filled with wishes. They were filled with hope. Hope is something very different. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises, and not just according to our wishes. Therefore, hope is always open-ended.”
In the play, the main characters do not have their immediate problems solved. Instead, they see evidence of God’s intervention in their lives, and it is enough. They will not fear the future, not because they have the answers they seek, but because they feel seen and cared for. The conflict of their loss of hope is resolved without all the challenges being resolved.
That is the true Christmas miracle because hope is the answer to the question of how. How do I deal with my fears? My insecurities? My pain? I have hope, even if it’s an open-ended hope that doesn’t understand the why.