Hope is fuel for the spirit of man. A man can live for three weeks without food, three days without water, but he can't live for three minutes without hope. A new beginning is like fresh fuel and spark for the soul. New beginnings of a year are like a new set of downs in football, the start of a new inning in baseball, and a new semester in school.
Over the course of a year, the hope we had at the beginning becomes worn and thin. Circumstances pummel it and reality attacks it. And while the spirit of man is remarkably resilient, and hope is amazingly durable, it nonetheless suffers greatly from the vicissitudes of life.
While eating breakfast this morning and watching some headline news, I learned of nine members of a family perishing in a private plane crash. They had been on a hunting trip in South Dakota. The victims ranged in age from 7 -81. Not only were they family, but among them were the owners of a business. As I pondered the sudden and severe losses of that family, I considered the survivors of the crash, their families back home and the employees who were all learning of the crash. I wondered aloud what damages were inflicted on their hopes. One of the men who died had just recently gotten married.
Not this January, but perhaps the next one or the one after that, hope may appear in their lives, like a green sprout poking up through the ashes of a forest fire. As devastating and destructive as life can be, hope truly seems to be the proverbial "cat with 9 lives," who eventually reappears after everyone else assumed it too had perished.
The cancer patient, the prisoner, the bankrupt, the recently divorced, the grieving - all search for something to fasten their hopes to. Hope is the inner companion that gently reminds them that research teams may find a breakthrough this year, that Congress may pass new laws for prison reform or that a judge or a President may show clemency, that a new job may be in the next email, or that being single and alone again may afford opportunities for a better life. We cling to hope as a shipwrecked sailor clings to a life ring.
And so with the start of a New Year, for many who saw 2019 bring no relief, no cures, no freedom, no bailouts, no positive changes, we feel that little "thump" in our soul. It is hope telling us that 2020 could be "the year." Why even the year - 2020 - LOOKS like hope. It speaks of perfect vision - focus, eyesight, health. Perhaps this will be the year we see our way to good health, a better job, freedom from pain or prison, or even a beautiful relationship.
Somehow, even multiple years of disappointment cannot prevent hope from wanting to rise in our hearts and once again stir us with the possibilities that may lie before us. Without hope, mankind would have ended many millennia ago. If, as I believe, hope is the fuel for man's spirit, then without it, man would have run out and been left to die and decay on the highway of history, passed by and forgotten.
2019 brought a major shift in my own career. Ten years ago such a shift would have probably devastated me; but, here I am looking at 2020 full of hope and actually happier because of this shift. The loss of one opportunity now allows me to pursue others that were hindered from being developed.
I realize that some losses are too traumatic, too devastating; that hope may be crushed and bruised beyond recovery. But, I can only HOPE that even in the darkest moments, those afflicted by loss will find their hope of putting down new roots in the soil under the ashes of their grief. I know no more than you what my tomorrows will bring me, but I choose to always allow hope to surge again in my life. To choose otherwise is to choose to die inside. And I refuse to allow that.
Here's hoping from my heart to yours that your 2020 brings you the fulfillment or rebirth of dreams perhaps you thought had died within you. Happy Hopeful New Year!
One hundred years ago, Christmas was not the commercial enterprise it is today. While there are many who frown upon the overt commercialism of the holiday, there are few of these critics who would choose not to participate in the giving of gifts and the celebrations in song and parties. Today, most retailers rely on holiday shopping as a make or break fiscal moment in their year. Good Christmas sales can mean the company profits and stays in business. A bad season and it could spell chapter 7 or 11 in bankruptcy court or the "going out of business" signs in the windows. A lot rides on this holiday sleigh ride.
I was wondering recently how this all-important season of the year came about. History tells us that pagan Romans celebrated Sol, the sun god in late December, the time when we observe the winter solstice when the sun begins its slow return to full power and glory in the northern hemisphere.
About 2,023 years ago, Jewish shepherds announced the arrival of the Jewish Messiah. Religious priests and astrologers from Babylon (modern Iraq) visited this child about two years later and honored him with expensive gifts of gold and incense. This child grew, declared himself to be the Son of God and the promised Jewish Messiah. He was rejected by the Jewish religious leaders, crucified by the Roman authorities, and, according to the Holy Bible, he rose from the dead three days later and ascended to Heaven 40 days after that. This Jewish Messiah was the founder of modern Christianity. "Christ" has the same meaning as "Messiah."
About 300 years later, the Roman emperor Constantine saw a vision that he interpreted as a sign from God commanding him to make Christianity the official religion of his empire. To accomplish that, he asked his pagan roman priests to work with the Christian leaders to formulate a broad-spectrum hybrid religion we call the Roman Church or Catholicism today. Supposedly, the pagan worship of Sol around the end of December was affixed to a newly presumed date of Christ's birth (historians place Christ's birth in October). Christ, as the Sun of Righteousness, was declared by the newly authored Roman church to have been born on December 25. The pagans were mollified and the Christians had a date to celebrate their Savior's birth. Voila! An instant religious tradition was created that was partially accurate and mostly accommodation for diverse religious entities.
As I read and studied this history, I realized that Christmas really would have little if any significance over the past 1700 years had Christ not been born. The giving of gifts really goes back to the wise men bringing gifts to Joseph and Mary on Christ's behalf. Their gifts were displays of recognition, respect, and honor.
Then in the 1500s, there was a Christian pastor in Great Britain who began giving gifts to the poor, the orphans, and the needy during the cold winter during what we commonly call Christmas season. His name was Nicholas. The Catholic church "sainted" him years later, thus the name, Saint Nicholas, or Saint Nick.
In the 1800s, a protestant minister, wanting to write a fun story for his children that would emphasize the joy of giving combined with a little mystery and wonder, wrote, "The Night Before Christmas." The story became very popular and perhaps as much as any other single element solidified Santa Claus as the iconic image of Christmas.
So, a pagan astrological observance, a supernatural birth of the world's Savior celebrated by wise men bringing gifts, the giving spirit of a saint, and a magical fable built around that saint sharing gifts from his big sack all combined to bring us the Christmas season as most of us have known it since our childhood with its festive themes, happy music, abundant celebrations, gift-exchanging along with the accompanying snowmen, elves, reindeer and manger scenes.
Well, with all of that, what does Christmas really mean to you? Here is what I am thinking at the start of this season:
1. I'm glad that however the day/season got to us, we have it.
2. I'm glad that regardless of what day or month Christ was born, that He truly was born and became our Savior.
3. In spite of some of the silliness surrounding Santa and elves and flying reindeer, I am glad for saints like Nicholas and millions of others who understand the true meaning of giving and bringing joy and happiness to others.
4. I love and enjoy the songs, the decorations, the whole spirit that makes this the most wonderful time of the year.
5. I wish that all of those who profit from Christmas would acknowledge that there would be no Christmas financial boost or gift-giving without the birth of Christ. He truly is the reason behind the season.
Finally, I realize that Christmas is really all about giving to those I love and appreciate as well as to those who are not as fortunate as I am. And if Christmas is giving, I can celebrate Christmas 365 days a year. Anytime I choose to give out of love and respect or compassion I show the spirit of Christmas.
Merry Christmas, My Friends