The True Hope of the Season

by Ben Gosden

It's that time of year again when we fill our homes and lives with yuletide busyness. Do you remember a couple of years ago when the pandemic convinced us all that we really could trim our lives down to the bare essentials of the holiday season and it would still be meaningful? 

It's funny how easily that realization becomes a distant memory. Now we’re back to running all over the place for parties, shopping, tinsel blessings, and seasonal joy. All the while also know we should slow down for the sake of Advent – the season where we learn to wait on the goodness of God to show up in surprising ways. 

Christmas has a special way of really bringing out both the best and worst in many of us. I was reading an article the other day about how we can “save Christmas” by demanding that retail stores drop their conventional “Happy Holidays” line for the more religious “Merry Christmas.” And it made me think of one particular experience I had that has just stuck with me.

I vividly remember one day of the Christmas season a few years ago when I was trying to finish my shopping. I was at a local retail store in the town I was living in at the time, and I was behind a man who seemed to be growing more and more impatient the longer we stood in the line.

I figured it was merely a symptom of the typical holiday anxiety -- long lines mean blood pressure elevations for many of us. But he surprised me when he finally got his turn to check out and decided to speak up to the frazzled sales associate.

"Ma'am, please do me a favor and save your ‘Happy Holidays’ line. I’m a Christian and I’d appreciate it if you told me ‘Merry Christmas.’ I just hate how you stores try to take Christ out of Christmas,” he said.

There I was, with my own front-row seat to this exchange. And I actually thought the man made a lot of sense, really.

Who did these stores think they were, reducing the true meaning of Christmas down to a bland, innocuous notion of “Happy Holidays”?

As the man left, I quietly agreed with him and even felt very justified in my seasonal discontent. I left the store that day wondering if I could help start a revolution to take Christmas back from department stores that would dare to remove Christ from the holiday.

I buzzed out of that store, bags in hand, ready to take over the world and rectify this injustice.

It was a cold day and snow flurries had begun to fall. The traffic was slow and I was enjoying the Christmas music playing in my warm car.

As I was exiting the parking lot, I was so excited about this revolutionary idea that I almost missed noticing a man who was standing at the entrance of the shopping complex.

Since the traffic was slow, I was able to get a good look at what he was doing. He was a disheveled man who looked like he hadn’t seen the right side of soap and water for some days.

He was staring blankly at the traffic leaving the shopping complex holding a simple, handmade sign that read: “Will work hard for food. Very hungry.”

Even at Christmas people find themselves hungry and hurting and hopeless. It’s such a wonderful season for so many of us that it can be easy to forget this.

That day I was excited about a mission to “put Christ back into Christmas.” It never occurred to me that I might be driving right past the best opportunity to do just that.

I hope God breaks into the busyness of your holiday season in surprising and convicting ways. Amazon or Hallmark Channel joy can’t quite carry the freight of salvation. But a Savior who promises to show up in the form of people in need, in promises of grace in the midst of despair, and in light shattering the power of darkness sure can. That’s our true hope this season. Not the gifts or tinsel. Just the in-breaking of God among us. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, God with us.