Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 25, 2013

Unshakeable optimism: The hope of Christmas is worthy of effort all year long


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — On this Christmas Day, children are eagerly tearing open presents. And, even within America’s borders, children are wondering where their next meal is coming from.

On this Christmas Day, families are enjoying each other’s smiles and hugs. And far from our shores, families are wondering if they will ever be able to return safely to the land they have called home for generations.

On this Christmas Day, merchants and corporate CEOs are counting up their holiday sales. And underemployed workers are wondering how to pay their heating bills.

On this Christmas Day, people are listening to religious leaders praying for peace and the acceptance of the gospel news worldwide. And people are scheming for new ways to oppress others or to wage war on them.

As much as we’d like to ignore it on Christmas Day, we live in a far from perfect world. We find it convenient to blame others for that, though if we examine ourselves very carefully, we will find that we, too, are not perfect.

A churchman from the 1800s, John Wesley, went so far as to say that his goal was “going on to perfection,” but that is often a difficult journey.

On one level, in the days leading up to Christmas, it’s been hard for most of us to measure our level of perfection against those who got all their gift-shopping done before September. I am among the many who fret that those gifts that I have scrambled to get will be the “perfect” ones that will generate a genuine smile.

This column itself will be considered less than perfect by those who believe that it is an opportunity wasted: An opportunity to magnify the news about Jesus’ coming into the world. I believe in that myself, but I am aware that not every reader of these pages agrees with me, and I don’t want them to stop reading now.

If you choose to shout your belief from the mountaintops, you can do that. That is one of the great freedoms of our country. It is worth noting that the very first phrase in the First Amendment, leading off our Bill of Rights, declares, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

It gets exercised a lot during December, in among the advertisements for holiday sales and year-end closeout value shopping. We light candles on advent wreaths, we go to cantatas or hymn-sings, we listen to powerful prayers — perhaps from Rome via live-streamed video, or perhaps from a wooden pulpit in an intimate local church.

Shining through the season is an unshakeable optimism about Christmas Day. There is the evidence that people care about each other, that they want to share good fortune with those both within and outside of their families. Even ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge discovered that in his heart.

With the traditions that have developed, layer on layer, surrounding Dec. 25, comes the hope that those warm feelings of goodwill will somehow take root in people’s souls, and will blossom in the 11 or so months to come, and will renew itself like a perennial plant forever.

Gifts do not always come in cardboard boxes topped with bows.

Soon we will take down the tinsel, the wreaths and the shiny lights. January is coming, with its realities of the chilly midwinter and post-holiday bills and budgets. Will there still be that warmth in us, that hope that transcends the day-to-day cares that can so easily overwhelm us?

If it’s not clear already, this is one of the most difficult columns I have undertaken in 13-plus years as a journalist. Yes, I volunteered to write this year’s Christmas Day column, a choice that I almost immediately began to feel was a burdensome one.

Writers more talented than I have written eloquently about this special time. I knew I was not going to replicate the “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” editorial found every year on this page. Yet Christmastime calls us to take notice of certain themes, and this column is no exception.

Call me idealistic. Call me naive. Call me overly sentimental. I believe in the hope of Christmas, in the capacity of humanity to lift itself above its greedy, selfish impulses and to help a fellow human achieve dignity and self-reliance and to start on a path to reach his or her potential.

Humans, at least some humans, have demonstrated that time and again through the centuries. History is littered with the facts of wars, rebellions and depressions, but it also chronicles great thinkers, philanthropists and selfless leaders who spurred their civilizations to great heights.

Christmas is as good a time as any — no, it is the best time of the year — for us collectively to make that start toward perfection.

Tom Bone is a Daily Telegraph sports writer and cartoonist. Contact him at tbone@bdtonline.com.