Sunday, 16 December 2012

Two Spirits of Christmas: Hope and Despair

(This blogspot was first published during December 2012)

There are two spirits alive at Christmas time. Now of course these two spirits are alive throughout the year, it's just that they seem to really come to life as we approach the magical day. One brings hope, love, compassion, forgiveness, joy and concern for one another. The other is the opposite it is the spirit of despair and greed and selfishness and violence. One brings to us glad tidings of comfort and joy, while the other proclaims it all to be humbug, it’s nonsense, its rubbish, it’s a delusion it’s a marketing con, it’s an opiate that keeps us all in our place.

To some extent both are true and I suspect that all of us have both spirits within us; I suspect that we feel all of these emotions at times during the Christmas period. I know myself that no matter how much joy and good will I attempt to spread out to my little world it will not alter the fact that violence will continue and people will still be cruel to one another. I am not a fool. I have seen the news this week. The horrendous shooting of twenty children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton Connecticut, the violence erupting again in Northern Ireland, the continuing tensions in the Middle East, the latest scandals. None of us are fools we know that the darker sides of life do not go into hiding during Advent. In fact maybe they seem worse in this season of light and hope.

It is so easy to sink into despair and say, there is no hope for humanity, but is this true? There are two spirits alive at Christmas, just as there are throughout the year. Those spirits are alive in you the reader and in me the writer as they are alive in everyone, as they are alive in all life. I believe that mine and everyone’s task is to feed that loving, hope filled, spirit and not allow the spirit of despair to win out. 

Like most good Universalists I know that the spirit of hope is formed and rooted in the very same place as that spirit of despair. I am writing this blog because I know that from utter despair can and does grow hope. Hope and despair are even linked linguistically; in the French language they share the very same root, espoir and desespoir. Hope and despair grow from the very same place. Those two spirits dwell within everyone. I believe it is humanity’s task to bring the spirit of hope alive at this time of year. Actually I believe that it is our task to bring this spirit to life throughout the year. 

When I think of the two spirits of Christmas I immediately think of Scrooge. In many ways he is the Christmas archetype. If we want to truly engage with the spirit of Christmas we need look no further than this 100% fictional character, who perfectly portrays the universal Christmas “mythos”. Remember this man, who was seemingly beyond all hope, who believed it was all humbug, came out of the story rather well. Christmas, for him, became a time of integration, of the past, present and future; of both the light and the dark of life; of hope and despair. Remember in the story he was visited by three spirits, the ghosts of the past, present and yet to be.

Remember that “The Ghost of Christmas Past” forced him to not only look back at his past but to relive it, to truly feel it. He was made to remember what Christmas had once meant, before cynicism had taken hold. It showed him both the happiness and the sadness present in his past, there was no sugar coating. Of course it is humbug to pretend that all the sadness in life is washed away at Christmas time. And yet while there is sadness present in all life there is also love and joy, there is much to be grateful for. Remember that the “The Ghost of Christmas Past” revealed this to Scrooge.

Remember that “The Ghost of Christmas Present” showed him the full picture of the world in which he lived, especially at Christmas time. He saw the warts and the beauty spots too. It revealed the affluence as well as the want. It showed Christmas being enjoyed in far off places, on the high seas in lighthouses, it showed every heart being warmed by the season. This surely touched Scrooge, as his heart was warmed by the universal love, present in all life, regardless of material circumstances, expressed by the spirit of Christmas.

Remember that “The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be” brought the reality of Scrooge’s own lonely and un-mourned death to him. People either did not care or actually cheered his passing. All that he owned was quickly stripped from him; it meant nothing in the end. They even took the curtains from his bed. When the spirit showed him his grave, he did not recognise it as his own, he tried to deny it, but the spirits finger pointed from the grave back to him. This terrified Scrooge who cried out that he was a changed man, as he begged for mercy clutching the spirits robe. And then from his lips came those immortal words, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The spirits of all three will strive within me. I will not shut out the lesson that they teach.”

Scrooge truly is the Christmas hero because he brings the reality of what Christmas is all about to life; through him the spirit of the Christmas “Mythos” comes to life. It is the same for everyone, regardless of time and place. For surely Christmas is about honouring life in its wholeness; surely it is about reconciliation in its completeness. Yes it’s about celebrating the light of hope in life, symbolised by the Christ child. That said it is also about recognising the darkness also present in all life. Scrooge’s redemption teaches the importance of fully acknowledging the past, both our own and the whole of humanities; it’s about un-covering the warts, so that we can celebrate the beauty spots; it’s about allowing that spirit to fill our hearts in the present and to express it in our lives, for our world really needs it; for the future truly is unwritten and it is our task to allow that spirit to lead us in the ways of righteousness and loving kindness, so that we can build a land fit for all our futures.

We can build temples of hope in all our hearts, in spite of the despair that we see within our own lives and those all around us. We can bring glad tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, glad tidings of comfort and joy to our world. We can honour Christmas in our hearts and try and keep it for the whole of the year. We can feel that blessing in our past, present and future and as we do we can carry that blessing with us in all that we feel and all that we think and all that we say and all we do.

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