“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among all humans with whom he is pleased.”
When my father died, there happened to be a little Christmas store on the way to the hospital from his home. In those exhausting weeks running between his home and his hospital room, hanging on to a fading hope that he might get better, my sister and nephew and I stopped for Christmas. It wasn’t Christmas time (quite) but we sure needed something other than the seriousness of death. So whenever we could we stopped. It was a good shop. Lots of crafty Christmas stuff and lots of Santas. Christmas can get very schlocky very quickly but for the most part the store was delightful. Maybe it was just my mood and that I needed it so much. For a few minutes on some days I could again find delight in Christmas.
Christmas means so much to me. Those stops helped me through perhaps the worst weeks of my life. I love Christmas because it invites us to believe that God is with us (no matter the evidence) and that can make all the difference. Christmas invites us to believe something pure and true and outrageous. Christmas invites us to believe that in all of it there is hope. That is how much of the story goes. Those shepherds were poor and struggling people. The life of a shepherd was as hard as life gets and yet there they were enjoying the songs of a heavenly host as if they were the kings of the world (which they were for those few moments!). Joseph faced a ridiculous choice. He could go with his dreams and the word of the wife he barely knew against the cold hard facts that she was unfaithful. He chose his dreams and the word of innocence; what a courageous man! The wise men wandered the earth as if they were going somewhere for something very important. And amazingly they were. Jesus began his life as a refugee and yet grew and thrived. None of it happened without wide-eyed hope that borders on whimsy and is not far from real craziness. That is where hope lives or it is not hope at all.
In the darkness of this world where violence erupts and children are lost and life seems so cheap, it may be crazy to hope in this way. Truth be told…we need hope even if it seems impossible and seems to be nothing more powerful than whimsy. I know I needed it facing the end with my Dad. As the days went by, there was no hope for me except at the Christmas shop. Amazingly it was enough.
Dad did die. A watershed moment in my life. I really was shocked when he passed. His presence and life force was so strong. I guess the little boy in me thought he could never die.
We went to the Christmas shop the day he died or the day after when we went back to thank the hospital personnel, especially the nurses, for all that they had done for my Dad. In the shop there was a new Santa or there was one I hadn’t noticed. It was a wooden Santa with angel wings that strangely looked like my Dad. What a gift. Dad was gone but somehow not. It was a small but adequate hope. I took it home and he comes out with all my other Santas soon after the anniversary of losing my Dad. I love that Santa as I love all my Santas. They hold that wonderful child-like hope that to me makes all the difference. It isn’t just whimsy that God is present in a multitude of ways all the time, even in the dark. Santa may seem like a silly childlike idea but then again so is Christmas. And yet Christmas is exactly what we need always. God with us. Merry Christmas!
Tim Ives is a therapist who has a special interest in teens and families. His office is in Bedford Hills. He is also a Presbyterian Minister at Scarborough Presbyterian Church. He is married and has two teenagers.