The first two pieces are on "Hope"...both claim it is not the same as optimism...Hope is not some projection into the future but more "an orientation of the heart"...both inspired my Advent mantra "It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness"...The idea that we bring light, from the candles of our own souls into the dark places of our world rather than cursing all that is wrong...Do what you can, with all that you have in the place that you are, as often as you can...bring a little light to the world...
“Hope” by Vaclav Havel
Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world
Either we have hope within us or we don’t.
Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit.
You can’t delegate that to anyone else.
Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy
when things are going well,
or the willingness to invest in enterprises
that are obviously headed for early success,
but rather an ability to work for something to succeed.
Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism.
It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.
It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live
and to continually try new things,
even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.
In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing
to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily,
without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.
"HOPE, NOT OPTIMISM" from Taking Pictures of God
by Bruce T. Marshall
Optimism, as I understand it, is an attitude of expectation that a particular result will occur—that a person will recover from an illness, that we will achieve a specific goal, that the Publishers Clearing House will pick my number from among the billions submitted. The dictionary defines optimism as “an inclination to anticipate the best possible outcome.”
Hope is less specific. It’s an attitude that looks for possibility in whatever life deals us. Hope does not anticipate a particular outcome, but keeps before us the possibility that something useful will come from this.
We are told that an optimistic outlook is a good thing, but I’ve rarely found it so. Optimism often leads to disappointment. When the best possible outcome doesn’t occur, we are let down, may even feel betrayed. Optimism may then become its opposite—pessimism, an inclination to anticipate the worst possible outcome.
Hope is more resilient, more enduring, more helpful. In a serious illness, for example, there are often setbacks. In the face of these, optimism may wear down. But hope encourages us to move forward despite the setbacks.
As we pursue our goals in life, optimism may lead us to expectations that are unrealistic and ultimately hurtful. Hope advises us to look squarely at the realities that confront us while remaining aware of the possibilities.
Erich Fromm observed, “To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime. Those whose hope is weak settle for comfort or for violence, those whose hope is strong see and cherish signs of new life and are ready every moment to help the birth of that which is ready to be born.”
It is helpful guidance, I think, whether we are faced with a serious illness, a personal dilemma, or a society that seems determined to destroy itself—not optimism that a particular result will occur, but hope to “see and cherish signs of new life” wherever these may occur.
I love the next two pieces as they speak of the transformative "magic" that the season can inspire in our lives...It is easy to miss this as we get lost in what the stories are trying to teach us. We argue about events and impossibility of them instead of losing ourselves in the story in the universal mythos...They teach a universal truth that speak to us...past, present and future...What does humanity need "Glad tidings of comfort and joy" or "Glad tidings of reason and fact"?
“In this season of growing darkness” by Rick Kelley
Let us turn to the stories of miraculous births that remind us of the wonder and beauty of another human life.
Let us turn to the fanciful figures of jolly elves dressed in red who remind us of the generosity and loving care nestled within the human heart.
Let us, most of all, turn to the tales of brave and courageous men and women who stood up for what they believed, and who tell us once again of the indomitable spirit residing within humanity.
In so doing,
May we reach out to others with generosity and loving care, showing them the ‘larger’ side of ourselves...
May we reveal to those closest to us some of the wonder and beauty of our existence...
And may we find within ourselves, together, the courage and determination to be with that which we believe, the freedom to become which we would become.
“And Stars Twinkle in the night air” by Richard S Gilbert
Become beacons leading to a babe in a manger, or a cave,
Or other humble place, in east or west,
A child in whom the human race was born anew.
And simple shepherds, so close to the earth,
Become heroes in a great miracle play,
Finding the new born babe before the great kings of the East.
And angels, those celestial non-creatures, made heavenly music,
To stir the heart for centuries.
(Oh we know it didn’t happen that way
But one must admit, it is very poetic.)
Only a myth, you say?
Of course only a myth,
The stuff of which dreams are made.
The fabrications of which joys are made.
Only a myth.
Yet those myths link us with those we never knew,
And will link us with those we will never know.
They will speak a poetry irresistible.
For we are sustained not by bread alone,
Or by reason,
Or by fact,
Or by the daily hum drum,
So much as we are by the poetry of human imagination,
Which paints pictures where before there were only colours,
Which forms songs where before there were only sounds,
Which writes stories where before there were only words.
Someone needs to be our story teller,
For human life is more than a bleak passage
Between the portals of life and death.
It is a story, a myth
It is the myth of Jesus, or the Buddha or Confucius.
Heroes of the race.
Or is it the story of a life,
Yours or mine, a story with a beginning and ending
And all that goes between of despair and hope.
The following is a meditation based on the "Mythos" "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"...I recently told a version of it during worship and then when I finished I asked the congregation to sing. Everyone joined in and what was so beautiful is that they all knew it by heart...When we learn something by heart it becomes deeply engrained within is us...Thus revealing something of the magic of this this season...
Meditation on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Edward Harris
What can we say about Rudolph?
It is possible that they hurt poor Rudolph. He was on the outside. The other reindeer had a special relationship with Santa Claus. They were the elite: Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, Comet, Blitzen, fine names, sturdy names, bespeaking solidarity, stability, education, training, ability, access to the very best. These reindeer were strong and fast.
Rudolph was smaller and his only distinctive feature was a shiny red nose. It seemed to have a glow about it. It made the young Rudolph a figure of fun. "See Rudolph the Red-nosed. Ha! Ha! I'd rather be dead than red in the nose,” they'd say.
Still he may have been content to be red-nosed by himself. He probably muttered more than once, "I don't care. Let them have all of the fun. I can have fun by myself."
Did Rudolph wish to be included? We don't know? Probably he did, for it is the deepest wish of all creatures to belong and be accepted.
So what happened?
On a foggy Christmas Eve, Santa realized Rudolph could make the difference in guiding the sleigh. Rudolph could lead them through. Rudolph's special trait was his ugly, shiny, red nose. It was this nose, this trait that was needed.
So Santa goes to little Rudolph and asks him to guide the sleigh. Actually to lead it. He would be in front of the other reindeer. Because their mission of getting Christmas to the boys and girls of the world was so important, it became necessary to rethink past practices.
When Rudolph was asked, what did he say? We don't know; it's not recorded. We know he did not say: "I can't. I'm too little." He didn't say, "Me? The others always make fun of me." He didn't say, "Now you ask me, I've got something else to do. It isn't fair."
He didn't say spitefully, "Get somebody else. Let Dancer do it." He didn't say, "I hope you crash, you and all the others."
So we have a classic story of the insiders excluding the newcomer and making fun of his special traits. It happens all of the time in schools, play grounds, classes, society.
We say: "They just don't have it. And if they do, well we got here first and don't have to let them in our group, our company, our church, our club, our political party, our games."
He just did it. He led the sleigh through. He did the job. It was a hard job but he did it. Then all the reindeer loved him.
What does the little story, the bit of doggerel mean? What is its moral?
Some possible meanings: Anybody can serve; we need everyone to be part of the team; even the ugliest (or what we label ugly) and smallest has a special contribution to make; the mission is more important than personalities.
There are perhaps others. (Can you think of some?) Remember them when you hear the song.
For me Christmas and the way we celebrate it is the perfect universal festival. It speaks to all people, past, present and future. It has developed from a variety of traditions, religious and secular. There are many who would love to see the back of it, from both religious and secular perspectives. There always has been. These voices will never win, as the spirit of Christmas will always win...One light will always defeat the darkness...The following two pieces express these sentiments...
“Christmas” by Charles Stephen
But Christmas survives all efforts to subdue it. Cromwell and the New England puritans were right of course, about the “heathen,” pre-Christian origins of Christmas. But they were wrong in trying to disavow it because of those origins. Its beginnings make it more universal, and those of us who have a touch of the heathen upon us can find good meanings in the season.
Scrooge, after all, was converted and promised, “I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” So can we, whatever our theological beliefs, for Christmas is so much more than theology, so much more than the Bethlehem legends.
It is as ancient as the awareness of the winter solstice; and as contemporary as the inner need each of us has to hope and dedicate ourselves to peace upon the earth and within the hearts of men and women everywhere. It is as deeply rooted as human loving and sharing and giving, and it is as new as the birth of our children and the birth of wonder and birth of new ideas and new love.
“Christmas” by E. Burdette Backus