Pastor's Blog

Smiling woman with arms raised standing outside in the snow

The Most Wonderful Time of Year

As we head into the holidays and the days grow short and the weather cools, those of you older than fifty may find yourself humming the tune made famous by Andy Williams lo those many years ago, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Whether or not you agree with the song, most people look forward to the “trinity” of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day with at least a warm feeling as they anticipate a day or two off, the music, the pageantry, the lights, the food, the gift giving and receiving — the joy and laughter of gathering with family and friends.

Alternately, some view the holiday season as The Most Stressful Time of the Year or The Most Melancholy Time of the Year as they worry about preparations to be made, money to be spent, family to be accommodated and griefs revisited. The truth is that for most of us, this time of year confronts us with a broad range of opportunities and emotions.  We manage as best we can, and try to hang on to and foster a sense of peace and goodwill in the context of the reality of our daily lives. The reality is that some years are easier to manage than others. With the economy on the skids, a looming contentious election cycle, the continuation of war, rumors of wars, and the threat of a winter COVID surge, this might be one of those years when the demons of anxiety, depression and despair seek to overthrow the angels of peace, joy and hope.

 Considering the palpable tension of this time of year, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 15:13 where he proclaims,

            May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, (NIV).

The story of Christ’s birth is one of love, joy, peace, and most of all, hope. In this passage, Paul refers to God as the God of hope. At the same time, the announcement of the birth of Jesus creates confusion, chaos and catastrophe, leaving a young couple to manage an unexpected birth in an inhospitable setting, and leading a maniacal king to take deadly action to secure his throne. Even in the original recounting of the story, the promise of Christmas comes in the context of darkness, doubt and death.

So, where’s the hope? Is there a valid reason to consider this season the most wonderful time of the year? Or are we condemned to muddle our way through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day mainly on sentiment and wishful thinking, that potentially give way to resignation, frustration, or even desperation?

I am struck by the fact that Paul says in the scripture, May the God of hope fill you, not, Be filled with hope. Genuine, lasting hope, it seems from Paul’s perspective, isn’t something we can manufacture by an act of will. Rather, hope, as well as joy and peace, are a byproduct of looking to and learning to trust in the God of hope. Centuries before Paul’s time, the prophet Isaiah makes much the same point, referring to peace when he says in Isaiah 26:3,

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!, (NLT)

 As we navigate this holiday season and look ahead to a new year, where is the focus of our attention? On to whom or to what are our thoughts fixed as we seek a sense of calm and equilibrium in unsettling times? We can’t hide from the darkness of our days, and it certainly doesn’t help to pretend that everything is fine when, in fact, it is not. But we can be intentional about turning off our favorite 24/7 news channel or limiting our exposure to the vitriol and fear-mongering of our favorite social media sites. Alternatively, any relief we experience from pursuits of pleasure or flights of fancy is surely short-lived.

Paul concludes his exhortation to trust in the God of hope with the rather fantastic affirmation that as we do so, we will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s God’s will that we don’t just survive the holidays and the rest of our days, come what may, but rather, by fixing our thoughts on his power and promises, we thrive in his presence and purposes. We become fountains of hope for those around us as we are filled with His Spirit.

I leave you with the words that Jesus gave to his first disciples recorded in the gospel of John. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid, (John 14:27, NIV).

Peace, joy and hope go together. We can’t have one without the other. Paul declares that God is the God of hope, and Jesus promises us His peace as we trust Him and follow Him. What could be better!? Maybe this is the most wonderful time of the year after all.                           

—Pastor Scott